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Preparing for the future


MOBILE, Ala. – Gene Smith won't say things are on schedule, exactly.

In fact, the Jaguars' general manager said Tuesday because of the goings on around EverBank Field in recent weeks, this January has a decidedly different feel from ones in the recent past.

Hiring a head coach and building a coaching staff can alter a schedule.

But Smith said while he is a bit behind in the scouting process compared to a normal season, the positive may be that in the future – when focusing on scouting is delayed for a more enjoyable reason – he and the scouting staff will be prepared.

"It's basically like we're in the playoffs," Smith said at a Tuesday morning practice for the Senior Bowl, which will be held at Leed-Peeples Stadium in Mobile, Ala., Saturday at 4 p.m.

"It (the coaching search) has put us behind a little bit, but from my standpoint, maybe it's preparing us for something in the future. You can't always do it like we did the last couple of years when you get a jump on everybody else.

"It's preparing us for better things, I think, in the future."

Smith, who said the defensive talent at the Senior Bowl seems at first glance a bit ahead of the offensive talent, said he expects that to perhaps balance out once the underclassmen declaring eligibility for the draft are factored in.

Many of the players projected in the Top 10 to 15 of the April NFL Draft are underclassmen and therefore not at the Senior Bowl, and Smith said there remains extensive work to be done on many of the underclassmen.

The Jaguars currently hold the No. 7 overall selection.

"This is obviously a showcase for the draft-eligible seniors, and the core of the draft-eligible seniors will come out of this game," Smith said. "With all of the underclassmen who have decided, we have to accelerate our work on the underclassmen."

Smith said the Jaguars' involvement with the Underclass Advisory Committee will help that process.

"We have a good feel for who they are and we have to get to know them a lot better," Smith said.

Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, who remained in Jacksonville this week to finish hiring the coaching staff and begin work on scheduling the off-season program, on Tuesday announced the hiring of several more assistants, including offensive line coach Andy Heck.

The Jaguars now have filled most of the major positions on the staff.

"I feel very good," Smith said of the staff. "Certainly Mike had the final say in the coaching staff. He was open-minded enough to listen to what recommendations I had. I think he's put together a tremendous staff."

Heck was one of seven coaches to return from the previous staff. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker also remained, as did linebackers coach Mark Duffner, defensive line coach Joe Cullen, defensive assistant Brandon Blaney, defensive line assistant Paul Spicer and special teams assistant Craig Aukerman.

"Mike had to sit down with them and they had to sit down with Mike," Smith said. "It had to be a mutual thing. I feel like it has positioned us well in regard to shaping a staff that can prepare us to win."

Smith said though not every member of the coaching staff is in Mobile, all coaches will have the opportunity to evaluate tape from practices. While the scouting department, and particularly Smith and Director of Player Personnel Terry McDonough meet to cross-check each evening in Mobile, much of the input from the coaching staff will come when the staff returns to Jacksonville.

"There are some players in this game we certainly will have interest in," Smith said. "Whether you like all of them are not, they are all going to be on NFL teams next fall. This is an opportunity to improve on what they put on film (in the fall)."

Also at the Senior Bowl:

*Count Dick LeBeau among those who are fans of new Jaguars offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. LeBeau gave Bratkowski his first offensive coordinator job when LeBeau was the head coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2001, and said Tuesday "I'd hire him again." Bratkowski served in that role for 10 seasons. "He has experience and experience is a big thing," LeBeau said. "He had one of the top offenses in the league and he has great experience."

*LeBeau worked with Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey one season in Pittsburgh, 1996, and also coached against Mularkey from 2001-2002 when LeBeau was Bengals Head Coach and Mularkey was the Steelers' offensive coordinator. "He's a great coach," LeBeau said. "He's a great offensive mind. He has head coaching experience and he'll do a great job. I think he's a perfect fit for what they have down there. He's a great hire and will do a great job. He's a quality person, a smart person and has experience on the job. He'll be great."

*Smith said while the player personnel staff has evaluated Jaguars players set to become free agents, the next step is to get input from the coaching staff. That's a process Smith said will begin shortly. Free agency is scheduled to begin March 13, the first day of the new league year, though the team can sign its own free agents any time.

*Smith said though the Jaguars plan to actively pursue free agents from other teams, "there are no givens. Some these players you think you may have a chance for are going to get tagged and re-sign with their teams. From my end, there is so much that goes into it. You just have to have sure you take care of what you have control over and put yourself in the best position." Smith said that involves setting the correct market value and establishing and re-establishing the best relationship possible with the player. Smith said that's a process that begins when the player is in college. "That helps you when you get into the pro free agency process," he said.

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