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Smith boldly re-shaping roster


Gene Smith said it's not a youth movement. "That's not the sole motivation," he added.

A dramatically younger roster, however, is the result of whatever movement Smith would prefer to call his re-shaping of the team's roster. He continued his reconstruction efforts with a cut to 53 this weekend that will likely result in the first four picks of this year's draft class becoming starters, and a trade for Luke McCown that's the first move toward making the critical quarterback position more youthful.

The most prominent cuts are tackle Tony Pashos and cornerback Brian Williams, both of whom were high-priced free-agent signings by the "Shack" Harris regime. Pashos and Williams have effectively been replaced by rookies Eben Britton and Derek Cox, second and third-round draft picks who are likely to become long-term fixtures at their positions.

"There's a chance of that. I'll leave it up to the coaching staff," Smith said when asked if the team's first four draft picks – Eugene Monroe, Britton, Terrance Knighton and Cox – could be in the starting lineup in Indianapolis on Sunday. "I feel the arrow is up on their progress. They're only going to get better."

Consider this: Since becoming the Jaguars' ultimate authority in personnel decisions, Smith has cut Jerry Porter, Drayton Florence, Cleo Lemon, Pashos and Williams, all of whom were pricey free-agent acquisitions. Reggie Hayward is the only remaining vestige of the Harris regime's unrestricted free-agent signings.

Now consider this: Since taking the conn, as coach Jack Del Rio described it, Smith has ushered out former first-round picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and the release of running back Alvin Pearman leaves only one player remaining from the team's 2005 draft class and only seven players remaining from the Harris regime's first three draft crops.

It's certainly too early to know whether or not Smith's efforts at rebuilding the Jaguars will be successful, but we can say with all certainty that he's not afraid to do it his way. Smith's eight-plus months as personnel boss are punctuated by boldness.

Eight of his nine draft picks this year have made the final roster. The lone cut, seventh-round wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, is expected to be signed to the team's practice squad, which Smith predicted will be one of the strongest in team history.

The most stunning fact of this weekend's cut is that the release of linebacker Thomas Williams and running back Chauncey Washington leave the Jaguars with only two picks, defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, remaining from the team's 2008 draft class. Needless to say, that is a devastating failure.

Trading a draft pick for McCown is something Smith would only do if he believes McCown can be a long-term fixture on the team's roster, which Smith does, in fact, believe. The position has been ignored in the draft, with Byron Leftwich in 2003 being the last quarterback the Jaguars have drafted. Smith believes McCown, 28, can become a quality backup quarterback who's young enough and talented enough to create competition at the position.

Twenty-one players in all are new to the Jaguars roster this year. That's Smith's direct impact on the roster's reconstruction. It is, by all NFL standards, a dramatic turnover.

"We feel that with the blend we have with this team, it gives us the best chance to win this year," Smith said, referring to the blend of youth and experience.

So what does it all mean? As it pertains to this season, the impact is likely to be negligible. With or without the changes, the expectations for the Jaguars this season were not high. Age had eroded the team's roster to the point that it became clear the team's success in 2007 was the end of a brief run of winning.

It is the impact on the future that will be greatest. This year's draft class is the foundation on which future success will be built. If all goes as expected, Smith may only need one more year's worth of reconstruction to return the Jaguars to the rank of playoff contenders.

"I do think we've laid a good foundation for the future and I do believe you have to do it through the draft," Smith said.

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