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Storm issue for opener


Not even the threat of a major storm could dampen Jack Del Rio's and Byron Leftwich's enthusiasm for Sunday's season-opener at Alltel Stadium. Coach and quarterback spoke confidently of the upcoming season, as the Jaguars began preparations to play the Seattle Seahawks.

"I am confident our guys are champing at the bit," Del Rio said. "There's a little bit of an issue with a storm brewing. We want to be a team that can function in any weather."

The weather issue is Tropical Storm Ophelia and forecasters aren't sure what to make of Ophelia's future. Some models have the storm turning out to sea. Some have it making landfall in central Florida. Forecasts include the possibility Ophelia will strengthen into a hurricane.

When and where are the unknowns, which means the Jaguars have to prepare for any and all circumstances. It is the plight of a team in Florida. It's the September routine and the Jaguars are accustomed to it.

"I'm weather-proof. I can throw through anything. That's the last thing I'm worried about, the weather," Leftwich told reporters on Wednesday.

This was a proud day for Leftwich, who was selected by his teammates as one of three team captains. The other two are Donovin Darius (defense) and Nick Sorensen (special teams).

"It's a great feeling that your teammates look at you as their leader. It's great to see you have the support of the team," Leftwich said.

Leftwich will lead an offense with an all-new playbook into a season for which the Jaguars are facing playoff expectations. They are expectations initiated by Del Rio on draft day when he said it was time for his team to take the next step. There has been no retraction.

"We know the type of team we want to be and we know what we have to do to get there," Del Rio said. "The NFL is all about production and getting it done on Sunday."

The Seahawks lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs last season for the second consecutive year. The Jaguars missed the playoffs by one win last season and hope to make this the team's first playoff year since 1999.

"We've grown," Leftwich said. "We know how good a football team we have on paper. Everybody's saying we're great but that's not going to win us football games."

The Jaguars have two Pro-Bowl defensive tackles but the team's run-defense declined late last season, allowing consecutive 100-yard rushing performances in the final two games. Del Rio cited his team's run-defense, which dropped to 11th in the league from number two in 2003, as an area that needs to improve.

"It wasn't good enough last year and it needs to be better this year. We think we shored up some of the areas where we were deficient and that we will be stout against the run this year," Del Rio said.

The Seahawks, of course, bring with them running back Shaun Alexander, the league's second-leading rusher last season. If the weather is wet and windy, Alexander's role in the game will only grow in importance.

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