Stroud sprain 'pretty good'

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Jack Del Rio termed defensive tackle Marcus Stroud's injury a "pretty good sprain," and that could be pretty bad news for a team that continues to battle injuries on its defensive line.

"At this point, there's nothing more to add," Del Rio said of Stroud's injury, which occurred on the first play of the second half of Sunday's 37-6 win over the Carolina Panthers. The injury is to Stroud's right ankle, on which he had a microfracture surgical procedure last offseason.

Making matters worse for the Jaguars is the groin strain defensive end Reggie Hayward sustained a week earlier in Indianapolis. Del Rio confirmed that Hayward is likely to miss his second consecutive game this Sunday when the Jaguars play in Pittsburgh.

On all other fronts, the news was positive as Del Rio met with reporters on Monday. At 9-4, the Jaguars maintain the lead in the wild-card race and can clinch a playoff berth this Sunday with a win over the Steelers and a loss by the Titans.

"Just keep winning," Del Rio said when asked if he had any thoughts on the playoff race. "Keep preparing to meet the challenges we face."

His quarterback, David Garrard, is the third-ranked passer in the league at 103.3, slightly ahead of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, 101.4. Meanwhile, running back Fred Taylor continues to turn the clock back on his career, flashing speed and power usually reserved for younger runners.

Against Carolina, Taylor cracked the 100-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive game. His 80-yard touchdown burst is the longest run of his career and he's become a sentimental favorite of Jaguars fans to be selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. Players and coaches vote this Thursday.

Jaguars coaches will cast one ballot. They are not permitted to vote for their own players.

Would they vote for an undeserving player for the purpose of helping one of their own?

"It should never reach that point," Del Rio said. "It needs to be a legitimate process."

Taylor and Garrard offer the Jaguars their best chance of having a player selected to the Pro Bowl. Taylor is tied with the Jets' Thomas Jones for fifth place in AFC rushing. Pittsburgh's Willie Parker leads the AFC in rushing with 1,217 yards, followed by San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson with 1,195 yards, Baltimore's Willis McGahee with 1,093 yards and Indianapolis' Joseph Addai with 975 yards. Taylor and Jones have 944 each.

Three running backs will be selected to the AFC Pro-Bowl team, but a first alternate selection would land Taylor in the all-star game should one of the top three selections decline to play. Taylor was the first alternate last year.

"I don't care to posture," Del Rio said when asked if he believes Garrard and Taylor deserve to be selected. "I think they're worthy of consideration, but I don't want to plead for votes. It hasn't done a lot to help the first four years I've been here. The more we win as a team the more that stuff will come."

Also noteworthy from Sunday's win over Carolina was the performance of a lesser-known player. Second-year man Richard Collier surprisingly replaced Khalif Barnes at left tackle in the third quarter.

"He's an ascending player. Wherever we can make a situation competitive, we're going to do it," Del Rio said.

Del Rio complimented defensive coordinator Mike Smith on his game plan against the Panthers. Cornerback Rashean Mathis was specifically assigned to defend against star wide receiver Steve Smith in a "take away their playmaker and make other people beat you" strategy, according to Del Rio.

"Defensively, we continue to stop the run. It was a solid day for the defense," Del Rio said. Holding the Panthers to 149 total net yards shot the Jaguars defense up five spots to 17th in the league rankings.

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