Jack Del Rio has more roster decisions to make before the preseason is complete, but Jimmy Smith won't be one of them.
"Jimmy's our number one receiver. He's not going anywhere. You can put that to rest," Del Rio said at Sunday's press conference.
The Jaguars announced earlier Sunday morning that veteran wide receiver Troy Edwards had been released as one of the team's cuts in a mandatory reduction to 65 roster players (plus exemptions) by Tuesday's four o'clock deadline. Edwards immediately became the answer to one of the summer's most asked questions: Who will be the odd man out at wide receiver?
Smith's future had become an issue in the wake of dropped passes. He dropped a perfect strike from Byron Leftwich on the Jaguars' first pass of Thursday night's preseason loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
"I don't like to see dropped passes. I'm not looking for a reason or an alibi. I'm looking for production. We're going to focus on production and expect him to catch the ball," Del Rio said when asked about Smith's drops.
"If we finish better and catch the ball better, it will look a lot better," Del Rio added of the team's pass-offense. "If we simply throw it and catch the ball better than we did last year, we're going to have a lot of fun on offense this year."
Del Rio remained supportive of his players in response to media questions, but there was a distinct firmness to the third-year head coach's tone of voice. Two weeks from the team's season-opener against the Seattle Seahawks, Del Rio's mood was regular season-like.
"I'm not looking to throw people under the bus. I'm not looking to place blame because that won't make us any better. Guys who aren't getting it done hear from me privately," Del Rio said.
Kenny Wright heard from Del Rio privately this weekend. Wright got the news that he has won the competition for the starting right cornerback job. Del Rio made that announcement to the press today.
"We've settled on Kenny Wright as the starting right cornerback this year. We were very thorough in giving everyone a shot. That's been put to rest," Del Rio said.
The decision to release Edwards was the result of the team's desire to develop its young receivers, the most prominent of which are first-round picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones. Williams has five catches for 45 yards and no touchdowns through three preseason games, and the Jaguars hold out hope his production will increase.
"In training camp, we made that position competitive," Del Rio said of wide receiver. "It just became obvious we could become a stronger team with the emergence of the two first-round picks and the younger guys overall."
What does Williams have to do to become the kind of receiver the Jaguars envisioned when they selected him with the ninth pick of the 2004 draft?
"He's got to make plays. He's got to finish better and make plays," Del Rio said. "The route-running has improved under coach Walters. For him to go to the next level, he's got to make plays and finish."
Jones made a sensational one-handed catch against the Falcons, giving rise to speculation he might be promoted to the starting lineup. Del Rio said today, however, that Williams would remain the team's starter at the second wide receiver position.
"From day one, we talked about (Jones) having the ability to do certain things while we're developing him as a wide receiver. The biggest thing he's had to deal with is running all of the time. I think he's done that. He's gotten more sudden. The approach hasn't changed," Del Rio said.
In other news, kicker Seth Marler has been returned to the Jaguars roster after failing his physical with the Cowboys. Marler was traded to the Cowboys on Friday.
Del Rio also addressed what he termed the "Reggie Hayward watch." Hayward was signed to an expensive free-agent contract last March and fans and media have grown concerned about Hayward's lack of statistical production in this preseason.
"I don't think it's fair or accurate to depict him as a guy who's had zero production because there has been production. There have not been sacks. We feel confident he's going to be exactly what we were looking for when we signed him," Del Rio said.
Rookie cornerback Scott Starks lost in his bid for the starting right cornerback job, but Del Rio said Starks "looks like he can be a starter one day, just not for the opener."
Starks and veteran Terry Cousin are competing for the "nickel back" job. "That's what we envisioned when we drafted him," Del Rio said of Starks.
The Jaguars first units will see very limited action against the Cowboys this Thursday. Running back Fred Taylor will not play at all.
"We still have some decisions to make so we want to get a look at some of those guys competing for those final spots," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars must cut at least seven more players in the move to 65. The team has six NFL Europe exemptions. If they choose to retain those exempted players, the Jaguars will only have to cut to 71. The team is currently at 78.
All teams will have to cut their rosters to 53 by six p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3.