Jack Del Rio is blowing Daryl Smith's cover.
Del Rio has been singing the praises of his third-year linebacker all summer. At every opportunity, Del Rio has made a point of heaping praise on the soft-spoken Smith, who values humility above publicity.
"So you're the anti-T.O.," a reporter said to Smith, causing Smith to laugh sheepishly. "I'm hard-working and do what I have to do," was his comeback.
Clearly, Smith is no match for Terrell Owens in the battle of pregame media hype. In fact, Owens has no challengers. He's the king of hype. Why even try?
Smith, however, may be as important a figure in Sunday's season-opener as Owens. The TV camera will be following Owens, but the Cowboys may focus their attention on Smith, who's a possible replacement for Mike Peterson at middle linebacker.
Del Rio offered nothing in the way of lineup adjustments for Sunday's game if Peterson is unable to play, but Smith would likely make the move from outside linebacker to the middle. Peterson, the leading tackler on last year's Jaguars defense, did not practice on Wednesday. He continued jogging as he recovers from a sprained knee.
"Daryl's going to play well. Daryl's a good football player. He plays well regardless of where we play him," Del Rio said of Smith.
Peterson is listed as "questionable" on the Jaguars' official injury report. "I'll have to see him (practice) for him to play on Sunday," Del Rio said.
It won't be lost on Dallas coach Bill Parcells should Peterson be unable to play. The Cowboys will, no doubt, test Smith early and often with a running game that features Julius Jones.
"Dallas looked good in the preseason. He's got a big, physical team. I like that kind of team," Del Rio said of Parcells' squad.
Other than for Peterson's knee injury and rookie tight end Marcedes Lewis' recovery from his high-ankle sprain, the Jaguars are in good condition. The other two players – Gerald Sensabaugh (ankle) and Scott Starks (ribs) – on the Jaguars injury report are listed as probable.
"You can't be so narrow in your thinking that you don't look at the big picture," Del Rio said, referring to Peterson's potential for playing. "At the end of Sunday, we'll turn our attention forward."
The two teams are 1-2 in the league in season-openers. The Jaguars are 8-3 in their history and the Cowboys are 31-14-1.
"I understand there's pressure. There's two ways to deal with pressure. You can feel pressure or you can apply pressure. I like to apply pressure," Del Rio said.
Whatever pressure the Jaguars might feel is the result of a 12-4 record last season that has heightened expectations for 2006. The high-profile nature of this Sunday's game, the result of Owens' comeback following last year's midseason suspension, gives this season-opener event status.
"It's a fresh start. It's a new year. It's exciting. The closest thing to the season-opener is the playoffs," Del Rio said.
At the same time, Del Rio knows he can't allow his team to get carried away with the fervor for one game. The Jaguars have a demanding opening-month schedule that must be negotiated for the team to be a division title contender.
"It's a long season. If the media perception is you've arrived or you're terrible, neither one applies. Whatever statements are made go quickly by the wayside," Del Rio said.
Smith made no statements.