INDIANAPOLIS – jaguars.com Senior Writer John Oehser sat down with Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to discuss the 2010 season, the NFL Draft and the team&39;s future . . .
* Q: Easy question first. You&39;re nearly two months removed from the 2010 season. How do you feel moving forward?*
A: We feel we&39;ve laid a solid foundation. We just want to build on that. It&39;s apparent when you&39;re around our guys. We&39;ve dramatically changed the culture of our locker room over the last two years. We have a good group of men – coaches and players – who are very committed. Obviously, this time of year, you&39;re looking to add a little bit to the talent base. As coaches, we&39;re spending time reviewing what we did and how can do it better. We see a lot of improvement and we feel like we made some strides with some of the younger players who are going to be good. We just want to see more guys take the next step – like Montell (Owens) did and like Marcedes (Lewis) did. Mike Thomas is that kind of player. He&39;s on the verge of really breaking out big – and Eugene Monroe. Our two young defensive tackles (Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton) are those kinds of guys. There are some good core players we can build around and we feel like we&39;ve established a nice foundation. We&39;re kind of anxious to get started.
* Q: A lot of people think improvement has to come from adding players in the draft, or free agency. But a lot of times it comes from people already on the roster . . .*
A: Big-time. That&39;s what we&39;re most optimistic about – bringing along some of the players and having them continue to improve. Let&39;s talk about our offensive line: Eben Britton coming back. Eugene Monroe is going into his third year now. Uche Nwanari is really rounding into shape, then you have a couple of veteran guys like Vincent (Manuwai) and Brad (Meester). They&39;re trying to squeeze a little more out of their football careers. When you start looking at those players – it&39;s a large number of guys who we really believe are poised to take another step as players. As a team, we feel that collectively if you get a bunch guys doing that as a team it will be the same.
Q: It feels like you have an energy about these guys, and about this situation. Accurate?
A: It has been building. I think we felt that last year. We knew we had a lot of work to do, but we felt if we had a good off-season last year, we had a chance to make a run and we did. We made that run. We just came up to Indy and fell short. But we put ourselves in position. We worked our butts off. We really put ourselves in a position that not many people thought we&39;d be in. We just didn&39;t close the deal.
* Q: Listening to you after the game in Indianapolis in December what was striking was there was a real disbelief that you hadn&39;t won. You said several times that up until the final seconds, you and every player truly believed you were going to make something happen and win . . .*
A: You lay out a vision of where you want to go. That&39;s what I did and that&39;s what we set out to accomplish. We were going through steps we needed to take in order to see that vision come to fruition. Well, we were there. We were on the precipice. We just didn&39;t quite get it done in the end. I know how close we were, and I believe in what we&39;re doing and how we&39;re doing it. With another year to continue to build what we started, we expect to take control of the division.
* Q: There was a phase early in the season when there were several tough losses. The team responded when a lot of teams might have folded. That has to be something on which a team and a coaching staff can build going forward, is it not?*
A: Absolutely. We had some crushing losses early and were able to come back from them. To me, that&39;s a couple of things. One, it was an internal belief. It wasn&39;t coming from anywhere else. People don&39;t think you&39;re going to be any good and when you slip up they try to jump on you. That&39;s kind of validation of what I&39;m talking about. Our guys are committed. We understand that rarely does a season go without some sort of adversity. I thought the way we handled that was indicative of the type of young men we have in our program right now. That&39;s part of the foundation we laid. We worked hard at that. There are some intangibles we&39;ve tried to tap into – bringing leaders, true professionals, high-character guys into our locker room. We&39;ve established that as the culture. There is a strength in that that you can&39;t always measure, but it shows up. You see it when a team is able to withstand some of the things we did early: that&39;s really where you see it the most.
Q: You had the six-game stretch when you won five games and took the AFC South lead. Aside from what we just discussed, what did you learn about your team during that stretch?
A: That was the main thing. We settled in and played complementary football during that stretch. Offense, defense, special teams – everything complemented each other. That&39;s when it becomes more of a team that we&39;re looking to have. We did not have a strong defense. We were not very good defensively, but we did some things that were effective in that stretch.
Q: You mentioned defense. Where do you want to see growth next year – aside from everywhere?
A: It really is, &39;everywhere.&39; As coaches, we&39;re going through last season very slowly and taking our time. We&39;re trying to look not only at scheme and design, but the techniques we&39;re teaching and asking our players to utilize. We&39;re assessing the things we think we can do with the guys we have. We&39;re just seeing a lot of room for growth in those areas where we&39;re just firming up who we are with the guys we have. You can try to write about that or convince the public, but they don&39;t really get that. We talk about taking Tyson Alualu, who is playing a three technique. We want him to penetrate, but in his effort to penetrate, sometimes he&39;ll take too big a first step and then the tackle might cut him out on a play away. He had been a read and react guy at Cal. He goes back and studies with Joe Cullen, sees those things, then we can sit down and talk about three technique. It&39;s such a more dominant level for him. It&39;s little things like that – taking Derek Cox and working on his press man. He has a bad habit of opening his inside leg, false stepping. You can hone up that technique and you have a chance to take a step with a player. There are just so many of those little things that we can emphasize where we can bring the best out of our players. That&39;s really what coaching is all about – teaching and developing. We have a good staff and we&39;ve spent a lot of time going through that tape. Each morning, we&39;re coming out of there going, &39;Golly, we just have to get better.&39; When you start going through the roster and looking at it, there are a lot of guys who are on the rise, who are ascending players.
* Q: The optimism you&39;re talking about, it feels very real.*
A: When I got here in &39;03, I was a young guy getting a job. You don&39;t get jobs where the team is set and ready to roll – although Mike Tomlin (with the Steelers) got one. Most of us don&39;t get those. We went through our growing pains and in &39;03 and &39;04, we kind of paved the way. We played some of our best defense in &39;06, and then I thought we were really close when we beat Indy. We went to Cleveland, and we were probably defensive line pressure from being really good. After that playoff game, we packaged everything and went after a couple of defensive ends. It didn&39;t work. Not only did we do that, but at the same time, we ended up with a bunch of guys who were making the most money, but represented the worst part. While we did that, we also had a team that was aging. (Chris) Naeole was getting older. Paul Spicer was getting older. We were ascending and all of a sudden we were in a descent again. Now, I feel like we&39;re back in the ascending part. We went through a mini-peak – we didn&39;t get real high, but we were ascending – and now over the last two years, we have purged the roster, started rebuilding, and we are coming up. We have a good nucleus of players. I feel like we&39;re coming into our best football.
* Q: You&39;re going into your ninth season now. Where are you better personally?*
A: Aw, geez. When you take over as a head coach, there&39;s no manual. No matter how prepared you think you are, you&39;re going to have a lot that you learn on the job. Every facet of what I do as a head coach, I&39;m a much better more capable person right now than I was nine years ago – from dealing with the media, understanding that responsibility and what that entails, I&39;m better there now. The Xs and Os, to me, I&39;m competent in that. There are a lot of guys who are competent in that. I think there&39;s so much more than that. Leadership wise, I&39;ve always been able to motivate our guys. I&39;ve always felt good about that. Our guys like playing for me. I feel good about where I am. I&39;ve definitely grown as a coach. I&39;ve learned a lot. There&39;s no real training for it, but I feel good about the lessons I&39;ve learned. I&39;ve definitely learned a bunch. I&39;ve learned from people like Tony (Dungy). I played for Tony, Bum Phillips, Frank Gansz, Dennis Green, Jimmy Johnson. You basically are what you learned over the years. Some had more of an influence on me than others.
* Q: Anyone would be remiss if they talked to the head coach entering the off-season and didn&39;t mention the quarterback. Where do you stand there? *
A: He (David Garrard) is a good young man. He has a strong arm. He&39;s mobile. He&39;s our quarterback. I&39;ve been saying for about four or five years that we would like to have a young quarterback to develop. But where we&39;re going this year in all likelihood, David&39;s going to take us there. I believe he has the skill set to take us where we want to go. We&39;ve got to be better on defense and we have to get the offense the ball back more. We have to flatten out some of his highs and lows. He has been a little bit hot and cold. He played red hot in some games last year – as well as any quarterback in the league. Then, he had some real clunkers. We&39;ve got to get that flattened out. Part of that is his responsibility, but we have to get that flattened out where we don&39;t have the big dip in performance like that. When he does that, special things can happen to him.