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Smith: 'It starts with me'


In Gene Smith's view, much around the Jaguars must improve, and it must improve soon.

That includes him.

Smith, who on an eventful Tuesday morning agreed to a three-year contract extension to remain general manager of the Jaguars, said without question a lot of elements around the organization must take steps forward in the immediate future. One of those things is his department.

"Doing things better starts with me," said Smith, whose extension came near the end of his third season as the team's general manager. "We do need to do a better job. I have a tremendous staff, but improvement starts with me."

Smith, who joined the organization as a scout in 1994 – a year before the inaugural season – agreed to the extension the same day Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver fired Head Coach Jack Del Rio and named defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interim coach.

The Jaguars are 3-8 this season.

Weaver also announced that he has agreed to sell the team to Illinois-based businessman Shahid Khan, the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Flex-N-Gate Corporation.

Weaver said the retention of Smith provided stability during an uncertain time, and players interviewed Tuesday morning said they were glad to see Smith get an opportunity to continue building a roster he largely has overhauled since taking over from James Harris late in the 2008 season.

Smith on Tuesday spoke with the media about several topics, in particular the development of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Gabbert has struggled statistically this season, and Del Rio pulled Gabbert with just over seven minutes remaining in a 20-13 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday. Smith said while Gabbert has come under criticism, the struggles of the Jaguars' 32nd-ranked passing offense are about more than the quarterback.

"It's a team sport," Smith said. "There are a lot of moving parts. We have to function better around him in our passing game to enable him to have success. I think time is the key thing here, and that in time, he'll show what he's capable of despite some of the struggles this year that we've had as a football team."

Smith said while Gabbert has struggled at times, he has shown big-picture improvement.

"I think you have to look at situations," Smith said. "That plays into it. Obviously from our end, we get an opportunity to see practice and games. I feel confident over the course of time it will transfer from practice to games in a more productive manner."

Smith said Gabbert also has handled adversity well this season.

"I like the way he has responded to it all," Smith said.  "He has been very confident. He has shown strong leadership skills and he has a strong will to prepare. In spite of some of the hits and some of the harassment on Sunday, he hung in there. I think his teammates admire that about him."

Smith also was asked about Gabbert's pocket presence and reaction to pressure, each of which has been criticized in recent weeks.

"I think with any young quarterback you have to learn to perform under duress," Smith said. "There are so many things in the NFL that are certainly more difficult than performing in college. That's the most difficult position to play, I think in pro sports, for everything that's put on that particular player."

Smith also said without question the Jaguars' receiving corps must improve. As a group, the receivers have caught 85 passes for 992 yards and five touchdowns this season.

"Something that's obvious to everyone is we have to get better at receiver," Smith said. "Clearly, some of that falls on me. I'm disappointed I haven't seen improvement in that group that I'd hoped we'd have at this point. We just have to have better performance around him, and I think you'll see a quarterback grow into the player we feel he can be."

Smith also said while winning is a priority in the final five games of the season, playing younger players with less experience also is a possibility.

"When you're in the situation we are, we're still trying to win games and that's what you strive for, but I do think you also have to look at the future, especially from a personnel standpoint," Smith said.

Smith said when it comes to measuring the team's success in the draft during his tenure as general manager, next year "is a defining year for some of these draft choices, because at some point you start defining who you are.

"Usually, in high school and college it's your third year, your fourth year," Smith said. "I like to think in some ways it's the same way in the NFL. I think what we've done a good job on is the draft picks, undrafted rookies, free agents, just trying to utilize the whole body of the work year-round.

"The draft picks in the coming years I'd like to think they'll make more of an impact, some of them, than what they've made thus far. Some of the setbacks have been injures. I know you can't control that, but I feel very confident the future is bright here."

Smith also:

*Said while draft selections such as cornerback Derek Cox, offensive tackle Eben Britton and defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith have missed extensive time with injuries, "The silver lining is they are at the front end of their careers, not at the back end. I think a lot of these guys are going to come back and be very strong contributors for us next year and in the future."

*Discussed the chances that interim coach Mel Tucker will get an opportunity to become the permanent coach. "I can just go off of what (Jaguars Owner) Wayne (Weaver) said," he said. "He'll get a legitimate shot, like all other members of the staff, to interview. I think this is a great platform for him. I know other organizations will be evaluating what we do. I do think he's an ascending coach in the profession. Mel's got a lot of the things you're looking for in a head football coach. Anyone who has worked with Mel would tell you that."

*Recalled the first time he flew to Jacksonville in 1994: "I can tell you when I got off the plane for the first time in Jacksonville, the first thing I wanted to do was meet the ownership, because to pull this off was amazing. Anyone that has lived here prior to the team coming knows how much this city has developed. I thought it was an incredible thing."

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