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Offseason nearly complete


Eight months ago, as coach Jack Del Rio stood in front of the media and assessed the damage that was his team's 2008 season, he vowed there would be changes, but nobody expected those changes would be as sweeping as they were.

Sunday, as Del Rio took his team into a week that will end with final cuts and the tally of change becomes official, the Jaguars coach was asked to assess where his team is in its rebuilding process.

"We've taken a very aggressive approach at it; the amount of turnover is unusually large and you can't continue to do that and have much success. Part of that was moving on, purging guys that just didn't fit," Del Rio said. "We do have a young team."

In that 2008 season-ender, Del Rio spoke dramatically of a new attitude in '09. "We'll come back with a lot of resolve. We must have a very strong offseason," Del Rio said two days after his team capped a 5-11 season with a loss in Baltimore.

How strong has that offseason been? Has it been strong enough for the Jaguars to expect to be competitive, contend for the playoffs in '09?

"I go back to the commitment players have made," Del Rio said. "We expect to play good football. We're looking to win. That's what we've been working so hard for."

The Jaguars head into the final preseason game with a roster that has undergone dramatic reshaping. Fifty percent of it is new to the team, and nothing speaks as dramatically of the change as the wide receiver position does. In the immortal words of Jim McKay, "They're all gone," sort of.

What's left of last year's team are those players who weren't the problem, and they have been joined by new players, many of them rookies being counted on to provide the foundation of the team's future.

"You don't win games on paper by who you sign," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. He was very definitely not the problem last year and the Jaguars confirmed as much by giving Jones-Drew a big, new contract.

"As a team, as an offense, we're on the right path," Jones-Drew said. "We don't worry about the scoreboard. It's all about rhythm. The more we get in that rhythm, that's when the offense will play better."

At 0-3 heading into the preseason finale, the Jaguars' rhythm would seem to be their best hope for reversing the team's fortunes in the regular season, yet, most of the "experts" are picking the Jaguars to finish in last place in the AFC South this year.

"Thank you, guys," Jones-Drew said mockingly. "We're going to have to use that. Until you've gone through training camp with that team, how do you know what they're going to do?"

Linebacker Justin Durant was much more succinct in his view of the AFC South race. Asked which team is his pick to win the division, Durant said, "Jacksonville; why wouldn't I pick Jacksonville?"

Durant obviously has the right attitude.

Del Rio said he will play his front-line players longer in Thursday's preseason finale against Washington than would normally be expected in a farewell game. "We have a younger team that needs to work," he said.

Even as the team headed into the final week of the preseason, they continued to alter its roster. Quarterback Paul Smith was waived and replaced by Todd Boeckman, who was with the team briefly at the end of spring practice before being waived. The Jaguars have signed Boeckman to determine whether or not he is worthy of a spot on the practice squad.

Meanwhile, Del Rio said the team has no interest in replacing backup quarterback Todd Bouman. "We like Todd," Del Rio said.

Del Rio remained mum on injuries but indicated that he expects his three starting linebackers to play against the Redskins, as well as rookies Derek Cox, Mike Thomas and Rashad Jennings.

"You didn't come out of that game feeling bad," he said of the 33-32 loss in Philadelphia last week. "There's a ballgame early when you want to be crisp and then there's a ballgame late when you want to evaluate your roster. At the same time, every time we keep score I want a (win)."

As we near the start of the regular season, the question on everyone's mind is how many times will the Jaguars win this season?

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