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Smith at the 'core' of Jags' hopes


They continue to cling to the "core" theory. The Jaguars believe that since they were able to retain their core players this offseason, the team will be competitive for a playoff berth in 2001.

Not everyone shares that belief. This is truly a matter of perception. What is yours? Are you a half-full or a half-empty person?

The truly cynical, which is to say the media that is paid to notice that which the public would otherwise ignore, would point to a roster that, in terms of new faces, is a salute to the Jaguars' first-ever training camp in Stevens Point, Wis. Forty-seven new faces? Seventeen rookies on the final roster? Somebody call the Elias Sports Bureau. Has any team ever won a Super Bowl, or even made the playoffs, with 17 rookies on its roster?

More on that this summer.

Tony Boselli is not a "half-empty" guy, but Boselli doesn't go through life wearing rose-colored glasses, either. He maintains a realistic grasp of football, is admittedly a sports fan and, therefore, is prone to gossipy speculation for no other reason than it's fun. That having been said, his opinions have often proven to be the product of logic and vision, and on a mini-camp weekend when new faces outnumbered old and made it official that the first era of Jaguars football is over, Boselli refused to join the growing ranks of doubters.

"I don't know half the guys on the team, but we still have a core. If a couple of rookies can step up, and if we don't have injuries, we'll have a really good team," Boselli predicted.

His is the "half-full" approach, but it is not without disclaimer: If their draft is good and their star players don't get hurt, then, everything will be OK. It makes sense.

Unfortunately, one of their most valuable players, Jimmy Smith, is already hurt, and there is no one within the ranks of their rookies to take his place. Smith's is a story that will determine whether or not this season can be anything more than rebuilding, and the final chapter on Smith could be written before training camp begins.

That's what has the "half-empty" crowd growing in numbers. This team can't win without Smith. It has proven as much. It was 4-7 in 1996 when he became a starter, then Smith led the Jaguars to four consecutive playoff seasons and two AFC title games.

This was a saga we didn't expect. Smith is one of those core players. His was a position at which the Jaguars had absolutely no need. All of a sudden, it has the potential to become the Jaguars' position of greatest and most unsolvable need. Such is the potential for drop-off from arguably the game's best receiver to "just a guy."

There would be no way to pick up the slack. Forget about asking what the Jaguars will do if Smith is unable to play. Don't ask about this free agent or that former star. Nobody could replace Smith; not this quickly. The only remedy for this problem is to be patient and hope for the best. We'll have our answer by the end of summer.

By then, we'll also have answers to a lot of other questions about this football team. By the end of summer, we'll have a pretty good idea if the Jaguars' glass is half full or half empty.

"It's disappointing to see so many guys who've been here leave: Smeenge, Big Searce, Boyer. It's part of the game. You have to say, 'This is the team; this is who we are,'" Boselli said.

Such is the attitude that will serve this team best. Crying over lost players won't help. The Steelers didn't cry when over a three-year period they lost more than half the core of their 1995 Super Bowl team. In the Jaguars' case, they have at least retained the core of their team.

"Obviously, we're going to need our top couple of draft picks to play well. As veterans, we have to raise our level of play," Boselli said.

And stay healthy. Always, it comes back to that with this team; with any team.

Embrace the "half-full" approach, but you must accept the fact that those core players on whom success depends must, in each case, produce the best year of their careers, and that can't happen if they're unable to play.

Already, the health watch has begun. All eyes are on Smith. He is one of four players this team absolutely can not afford to lose.

*Vic Ketchman's columns appear in 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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