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Smith cleared to return


Jimmy Smith has been cleared to return to the Jaguars, the status of Mark Brunell's left elbow is uncertain for Sunday's game against the Chargers, and coach Jack Del Rio divulged his "plan" at this afternoon's press conference.

"Chop wood; keep choppin'," Del Rio said when asked to elaborate on the "plan" to which he referred yesterday, following the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the Houston Texans. "My message to the team was simple: I have a plan and we will win here," Del Rio said of his postgame address to his team.

Of course, his "plan" involves more than chopping wood, but those two words have become the team's motto, in light of their 0-4 start. Del Rio urged his players to "keep choppin' wood" during last week's practices, and the rookie head coach went so far as to have a massive oak tree stump and teal-handled axe installed in the center of the team's locker room. The floor is littered with wood chips from players who've taken swings.

"I believe we're doing the right things and we'll continue to do the right things. Last week I had a big log brought into the locker room. It's symbolic of keep choppin' wood. In the end, we'll split that log," Del Rio said.

But when? Will this be the week? The Chargers are also 0-4. Someone's gonna split their log this Sunday in Alltel Stadium.

And if that team should be the Jaguars, will Brunell be their starting quarterback? Don't expect a speedy answer to that question.

"Mark Brunell is still unable to practice, if we had to practice today. We'll reassess that situation on Wednesday," Del Rio said.

Del Rio was asked if he abides by a popular unwritten rule among league coaches that players will not lose their starting jobs due to injury. "I try not to paint those pictures; make blanket statements. I don't see any benefit," Del Rio said.

The translation is that rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich could win the starting quarterback job with a winning performance against the Chargers. Leftwich, who was in his first pro start Sunday, got high marks from Del Rio today.

"I thought Byron played well. He would've liked to have tucked that ball at the end of the game. He played with poise, was very decisive, didn't take a sack. I understand what the numbers say, but that doesn't mean everything was bad," Del Rio said.

If Leftwich is back under center this Sunday, he may have the team's best wide receiver back in the lineup. Smith received approval this afternoon to return to the team, and he was thought to be en route from the drug rehabilitation clinic at which he underwent therapy.

"I would like to begin by reiterating how truly sorry I am," Smith said in a press release the team prepared. "I take full responsibility for the actions that have put my family, my team and myself in this situation. The best way for me to apologize to my family, the Jaguars and the fans is to never let anything like this happen again. Actions speak louder than words, and I understand that it is up to me to show you, not tell you, how sorry I am.

"The past six weeks have been one of the toughest times of my life. Working to overcome my problem, while knowing what a difficult position I have put so many people in, is hard to come to terms with. But I am working hard to do so because it is critical to my recovery. I understand my recovery is something I must work at every day, and can never take for granted. Although I don't deserve it based on my actions, I truly appreciate all of the support I have received over the past six weeks. I will not let you down," Smith added.

Smith was suspended in August for the first four regular-season games, according to the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"We'll give him every opportunity to show us where he is. I believe he'll be able to come in and help us," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars were granted a one-game roster exemption for Smith, if the team chooses to use it. They must decide by the end of the week whether to make Smith active for Sunday's game, or exercise the option. If he is activated, the Jaguars will be forced to release a player from their roster.

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