Jack Del Rio has seemingly opened every press conference after every practice and preseason game since mini-camp began way back in May with these words: "Got some good work in." He did it Thursday night for the final time because from now on it's not about practice, it's about winning.
The Jaguars concluded their preseason at 2-2 with a 13-9 win over the visiting Atlanta Falcons on Thursday. Now, General Manager Gene Smith goes to work at cutting the roster to the final 53 by six p.m. on Saturday.
Thursday night's game was little more than a final tryout for players on the roster bubble. The starters took the night off, as they stood along the sideline in shorts and watched. Meanwhile, fullback Brock Bolen was having a night he'll never forget.
Bolen may have clinched a spot on the roster with his third consecutive strong performance of the preseason. He scored the game's only touchdown on a 16-yard run in the second quarter.
Did Bolen close the deal, Del Rio was asked?
"I've had a lot of questions about him lately. I guess that's good," the coach said, careful not to offer much more information.
Tight end Zach Potter is another player who made a strong final pitch. Potter, a powerful blocker, also showed that he can be a receiving threat. He caught two passes for 33 yards; one of the catches was for 25 yards.
Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood was in great position to make a strong final pitch for a roster spot. Underwood used his speed to blow by a defender, but Luke McCown underthrew Underwood and the second-year wide receiver awkwardly dropped McCown's throw.
"I thought the ball could've been laid out for him a little bit. He didn't come back and get it the way we'd like him to do," Del Rio said.
Underwood is in a battle with veteran Troy Williamson for the speed receiver role. Williamson didn't help his cause much, either, letting a pass at the goal line hit him in the facemask and failing to get his second foot down inbounds on another catch attempt.
At free safety, all of the contenders played to conclusion, and they all had their high moments. Courtney Greene and Sean Considine may have enjoyed the best performances. Greene forced a fumble and Considine had a couple of crucial passes-defensed.
"I loved seeing Courtney Greene come up and put a shot on the running back. I thought our tackling in the secondary was a little better tonight. Gerald Alexander had a chance at a pick-six and didn't make it. Sean Considine made a nice play in the red zone," Del Rio said when asked to evaluate the play at safety.
Cutting the roster will be the focus of the next two days, but then all of the Jaguars' attention will quickly turn to their season-opener against visiting Denver on Sept. 12. It's a game of extraordinary importance, especially considering the Jaguars' rugged opening schedule.
"We worked hard starting in the offseason program. We're going into the next phase, which is the regular season, and we're looking forward to it," Del Rio said.
A few days after last season concluded, Del Rio said the expectation in 2010 was to reach the playoffs. In the spring, he raised that expectation to include winning the AFC South.
"We've done a solid job of raising the expectation level and demands. We feel we're an improving football team. We're expecting good things because we know the work we put in," said Del Rio, who added: "I think we're more talented than we were last year."
Now it's time to find out if the Jaguars can deliver on their expectations. It's not about getting some good work in any longer. Now, it's only about winning, or losing.