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Punt-return job wide open

Join *Jaguars Inside Report *Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Colby Saylors from Reno, NV:
I know the Jags are really looking to have a good defense this year. How good is the young group of linebackers? Is Westmoreland the class of that new core, or is it Joseph Tuipala. Tuipala was very impressive with the Outlaws of the XFL. Do you think he will make the final roster? Now with Dawkins as our third receiver, will R. Jay Soward just be a kick-returner and not see any action on offense? I'm hoping he will be a kick-returner, at least, if he will not be used in the offense as much. Last year, I thought he would be similar to a Dyson on the Titans. Is there a possibility of him being that effective this year?

Vic: You know more about Joseph Tuipala than I do. I do know that third-round pick Eric Westmoreland was very impressive in mini-camp, especially in pass-defense, and appears to be one of the Jaguars' distinct young players for the future. At this point in time, second-year man T.J. Slaughter would seem to be "the class" of the Jaguars' young linebackers, but there really aren't that many of them and it's almost guaranteed the Jaguars will turn to linebacker again in next spring's draft.

Aaron Hood from Winter Park, FL:
What do you think the Jags will do with Soward if he doesn't straighten out?

Vic: Cut him.

Nedzad Cavka from Jacksonville:
With Reggie Barlow gone, and with the problems Soward has, who do you see doing all the returns? Still Shyrone Stith? What about punt returns?

Vic: The punt-return job would appear to be wide open, at least until R. Jay Soward has completed his four-game suspension. Alvis Whitted and Shyrone Stith have shown well returning kickoffs, but the Jaguars don't have any clear-cut punt-return candidates other than Soward. Keenan McCardell can be counted on to catch the ball and to come up and make the fair catch. Tom Coughlin may use McCardell to return punts until Soward is able to take the job. Other candidates will probably surface in training camp and in the preseason games.

Sean Ouellette from Brookline, MA:
Have you heard much about the progress of rookie free agent WR Randal Williams? Does he have a shot at making the team?

Vic: Randal Williams impressed Coughlin and his personnel department in mini-camp. Williams is a big receiver who possesses natural grace and athletic ability, but he didn't have much of an opportunity to catch passes at New Hampshire. Williams is a definite "rookie to watch" in training camp, when he'll have to prove he can play when the pads are on.

Jimmy Stokes from Jacksonville:
After reading the article in the Florida Times-Union about Chad Ward, do you think he will beat out Zach Wiegert for the starting right guard position?

Vic: If Zach Wiegert is recovered from last season's ACL surgery, he's the man. Chad Ward will be put into a position of rapid development, with the hope he will offer immediate depth at the position. It would be unfair to put any more pressure than that on him at this point in time.

John Gornto from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
What do you think of Kiwaukee Thomas and T.J. Slaughter as future Jags? They both seemed to show promise last year.

Vic: All indications are that T.J. Slaughter will be one of the Jaguars' starting linebackers this year. Kiwaukee Thomas was outstanding in last summer's training camp, but lost some coverages during the season, which should be expected of a rookie. He would also seem to fit firmly into the Jaguars' plans.

Tammy Walls from Waycross, GA:
Do you see Kyle Brady playing an even bigger role in receiving after his great show last season?

Vic: I have repeatedly stated that, in my opinion, the manner in which the Jaguars distributed the ball last season was perfect. If Kyle Brady catches 60 passes again this season, he will completely erase any criticism from his slow professional start with the Jets.

Willie Collier from Jacksonville:
Do you feel Tom Coughlin and Wayne Weaver should have invested so much time and money to sign Brunell this season? We lost more key veterans and depth than Brunell was worth. Drew Brees would have done fine with J. Quinn.

Vic: I support what they did. The Jaguars signed Mark Brunell at a reasonable price for a star quarterback. They also retained their rights to a player of immense value in the league. Of course, he must perform equal to what the Jaguars are paying him, but he always has. The simple fact of the matter is that if they had traded him, there would be almost no optimism for this season. By the way, if Drew Brees becomes a successful quarterback, what do you think his next contract is going to be worth?

Vijay Oberoi from Toronto, Ontario:
It hurts me when I keep hearing that the Jaguars have lost many players, specifically Searcy, but our top two draft picks can't be that bad. Do you think Mo Williams will make a difference and help Boselli protect Brunell? And do you think that Stroud will be a factor on the defensive side and stop the run? If they could be as good as Tom Coughlin wants them to be, I don't think I'm out of my mind when I say the Jaguars are Super Bowl contenders.

Vic: Marcus Stroud was drafted to be a factor on defense and to stop the run, and Maurice Williams was drafted to make a difference and help Tony Boselli protect Mark Brunell. Let's give them a little time to develop into those roles. In my opinion, the Jaguars have lost too many players since 1999 for this team to be considered preseason Super Bowl contenders. The emphasis should be on becoming playoff contenders.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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