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The plan is the thing


The coming days are big and there is pressure. Gene Smith knows this. It is that way every April, but it's not his major concern.

The major concern for the Jaguars' general manager isn't the fans' perception, or countless mock drafts mocking seemingly countless players to the Jaguars, or even the specifics of what to do with the No. 7 overall selection of the 2012 NFL Draft and six selections thereafter.

The concern is the plan, because around the Jaguars on draft day, the plan is the thing.

The plan provides calm. The plan provides structure.

The plan provides focus.

"It's a very consistent approach and it's a very stable approach," Smith said recently as he prepared for his fourth draft as the Jaguars' general manager.

"As you get into the draft you've got to be in position at times to adjust. Your strategy may change based on what happens. But it's a comfort knowing going in that you have a rational order in place to select from, especially at the number one (first-round) pick."

Ideally, Smith said, draft-day decision-making isn't about chaos, stress or debate. The time for those things is long since past when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City Thursday at 8 p.m.

Shad Khan, owner of the Jaguars since January, will be in the draft room for the first time. Smith, Khan, Director of Player Personnel Terry McDonough and Head Coach Mike Mularkey will be a table in the room's center, with the scouting staff seated around the room. Smith said he will have given Khan a clear idea about strategy beforehand.

Smith compared being a general manager to calling plays on game day.

"When we're on the clock, there's not a lot of talking other than the main table or as needed," Smith said. "Once you've been on the clock it's a different level of focus and intensity even though you feel very comfortable with the plan you have going in. You want to make the best call and you trust the process that brought you to what you feel is the best decision for the organization."

The plan, Smith said, is more important than the specifics, and more important than the scenarios many are offering for the Jaguars.

Will the Jaguars select Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon at No. 7? Mississippi State defensive end Fletcher Cox? Or will it be South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, or South Carolina defensive end/linebacker Melvin Ingram? Or even Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones? Will they surprise, as they did with defensive tackle Tyson Alualu two years ago?

Smith said whatever happens, it will be about picking a player with the best chance of long-term success.

"Sometimes it fills an immediate need and sometimes it doesn't," Smith said. "This year, going in I'm saying a very consistent message; whoever is the best player on our draft board, if we're set at seven and we have to pick, we have a player to pick.

"If we move, we stay with the draft board and we select the next player."

Trading down remains possible. Smith said in late March it's something the Jaguars want to do, and said it again at the team's pre-draft luncheon last week. He said value can be found in Rounds 2-5, but the issue is what it is whenever trading down is discussed – that it's always harder to find a trading partner during the draft than to talk about it beforehand.

McDonough, who handles all draft-day trades, has spoken with a representative of every team. He said there has been more inquiries than usual – "there's some jockeying going on" – but there also have been reports this week that it will be difficult to trade.

"A lot of what happens on draft day happened well before draft day," Smith said. "There's certainly more of a comfort level if you've talked to that team and you have a relative value in your mind for the trade. You discuss that going in so it makes it very easy when you're on the clock.

"If you get a trade where you think there is relative value, if the plan says it's a good option to take then you take it.  And if not, you select the player."

The plan also allows Smith to focus not on need, and not on pre-draft buzz, and he said the Jaguars' primary draft need is what it always has been – talent.

"I'm not going to move for the sake of moving unless it makes sense," he said. "I'm not about being cute, probably more about executing based on our plan going in."

Smith said the depth in the draft starts at defensive and offensive tackle, while draft analysts believe it's a weaker year for defensive end and safeties. Smith said it's a solid year for outside linebacker and cornerback, and offensively, he said there is depth at running back and wide receiver.

Smith long ago identified wide receiver as an area of need this off-season. He said during the pre-draft media luncheon the team likely will select a wide receiver or two.

Just when that will happen is unknown.

"There are enough numbers at that group especially through the first three rounds where you could get guys that could emerge one day as a starter," he said.

The pre-draft buzz, as always, is about surprises. While Blackmon long has been projected in the Top 6, reports this week have Cox or even Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly possibly moving into the Top 6 and pushing Blackmon down. There also long have been reports that a team seeking a quarterback could not only trade with the Jaguars for the opportunity to take Ryan Tannehill, but that such a team could trade to move into the Top 6.

Smith said during the pre-draft luncheon that while you don't want to pick early every year, he feels good about the Jaguars at No. 7. "Clearly you've got to get a little bit of luck on draft day too, by a player sliding to you that you don't anticipate will be there," he said. "That hasn't happened a lot. We hope it does this draft."

Whoever rises and whoever falls, Smith said one thing won't change. There will be a plan, and the plan will be the thing.

"What we try to do is, prior to the draft, make rational decisions as to our value board, the rank of the players, because if the grade is off a rank takes precedence over the grades," he said. "Regardless of what happens we're going to have a player to pick. There's not going to be debate on the clock, we're not going to make an irrational decision on the clock; there's going to be a rational one prior to draft day. . . . We want to make sure we're taking the player from the highest level of talent when we're selecting.

"You function on adrenaline through the draft.  It's a real emotional swing, and I can't compare it to anything.  When you make the selection there's just a level of energy.  I guess for the fans too, excitement because they're not sure who you're going to pick.

"Then, when you make the pick you know you're doing something in your mind that you feel is best for the future of the franchise."

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