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EXCLUSIVE: Big Cat Country Interview with Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio: Part 3

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Part 3 of our (actually now 4-part) Interview with Jack Del Rio.

RCR: Sticking with the receivers, can you comment on the rise of Mike Sims Walker this season?

Jack Del Rio: I'm really happy for Mike. You know, he had such a tough year, not this season, but the year before that in 2008. You know he lost his father, he lost his close friend, he was hurt, just a tough year for him. One thing that we have all seen in the time that Mike has been on the field is that this guy has natural hands, a real feel for sitting down and getting open and being a reliable for the quarterback. It's great to see a young man work as hard as he has and to see him have some success. He's persevered through some really tough situations in his life and he's settling in for us and playing good football for us. I'm really happy for Mike.

RCR: It's really early to start thinking about the draft, with free agency and what not ahead of us, but can you tell us if there are any guys out there that we should know about that Mel Kiper might not recognize?

JDR: Well, It's far to early in the process, for me, to get to those kind of those discussions because quite honestly, I'm still working through the evaluation process, the different things I want to do with the staff, with our system, grading and making sure about our own players first, taking a real through look at our own roster first. At some point switches and we'll get into the personnel side of it.

You know, tomorrow [Tuesday], I'll be down in Orlando for some East-West Shrine Game practices and then next week to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. I think when you come back from those two All-Star games, that's when it really kind of kicks off. Next thing you know you're at the combine and you're really getting a feel for the draft class.

Right now it's just be TV scouting, and you can't really rely on TV scouting to have a good opinion.

RCR: Can you walk us through that process, what goes into the year-end evaluation?

JDR: Well the first thing we do is evaluate our own roster. I think it's very important that we are thorough and that we do a great job of evaluating our own personnel before we set up a plan to add to that personnel. We'll meet with the positional coaches, we'll write reports, the coordinators write reports, Gene Smith and the Scouts write reports, I myself have a report, and what we do is sit in a room and talk through the information. Each person shares his report and we establish a grade for that player. We'll look at the medical reports, we'll hear from the strength coach, from everybody who interacts with the players over the course of the year. We're gathering information, getting feedback Not just about the physical capability, but also the type of character we have in the building, the type of people. What we want to have, here in Jacksonville are people who have a passion for football, that love to play, that are committed to being a winner and doing whatever it takes, but that are also committed to being good people, not just in the locker room, but out in the community. Those are things that we are doing, but it takes time to gather all that information and then process it.

Mr. Weaver sits in on those conversations, he has good insight on the process, then Gene and I sit back and sort through all that we've heard over the extensive evaluation process and then we map out a plan and then visit with Mr. Weaver about that. That's really where we are with that.

RCR: Given that Big Cat Country is a first and foremost a fan oriented site, is there anything that you'd like to say directly to the Jaguars fan community?

JDR: Well, I'd like to say that we have a good coaching staff who are good teachers and are committed to bringing a winner here to Jacksonville. We have a Scouting Staff with Gene  and Terry that have been in place for a year now, and working together, there are a lot of positive signs about where we are heading with this franchise. We were able to see [Sunday] a team that we beat in the Regular Season, the New York Jets, go in and put themselves in a position to play in the AFC Championship game. It can happen quicker than you think. We have aggressively sought to restore, rebuild, and strengthen this roster.

I think what's first and foremost is that we change the culture in our locker room. We've made strides in the time that I've been here, but this really a new beginning. Last year was really a fresh start in many respects, and I just ask that people really understand what we're doing. When we finish the year with 16 rookies and 33 new players on a 53 man roster, that's a big overhaul. Some hard work and some grit and determination went into helping us find our way into in the playoff hunt despite all that turnover. I would say to be proud about what is taking place because we are changing the culture here in Jacksonville, for the positive, and the solid foundation that we're build on that we add on to this year will be good for years to come. We really took an aggressive approach that way.

It's not the ideal way, as a head coach, to be evaluated on one year, but I think it gives us the best chance to get this thing turned around and to be a good football time for many years.

RCR: I know that you and Coach Tice were very close and that he's had a positive role on the team, particularly with Marcades Lewis. Have you started the process of finding a replacement for him? How do you replace someone like that and move forward?

JDR: Mike was special. A good friend of mine who I happened to play with a quite a few years ago, was a head coach in Minnesota. Very respected, did an outstanding job while he was here. Mike and I, we had an agreement for the last couple of years that if he had an opportunity to be an offensive line coach, that's something he really liked to do, if I didn't have a spot open for him to be the line coach here, that I would honor his desire to go be a line coach and allow him to go. Each year when he would sign an extension with us, that was an understanding that we had. I'm really happy for Mike, that he's getting this opportunity. I think he's a terrific coach.

We like Andy Heck as our line coach, Andy's done a nice with our guys and we'll only get better as the talent gets better. We wish Mike the best, he remains a close friend and I'm happy to see him get the opportunity to get a line group again, I know that's something that he has a strong desire for.

RCR: The position coaches and assistant coaches never get a lot of attention, but at Big Cat Country, we've got a lot of love for Andy Heck. I don't know if he gets mobbed at Winn Dixie or wherever he Grocery Shops, but let him know that he's got a big fan base.

JDR: [Laughs] He'll love hearing that and knowing that. What happens with guys like Andy, he's a really good man and a really good person. He does a really good job with his group and he'll be happy to hear that.

RCR: With the new defensive coordinator, injuries, and all that went with it, do you think the Jaguars will be experimenting with the 3-4 defense, or will they stick with the 4-3 that worked well in the 2nd half of the season.

JDR: Yeah, the 4-3 will be back. We did what we thought we had to with some playing with the 3-4 and 4-3 to generate some rush. We were able to make some one-on-one opportunities, but it never really translated into good defensive play. It is my desire to bring our defense back to the aggressive, 4-3 attacking penetrating front that I really know. It's what I've been in my career for the most part. It's a very effective force. When I was Baltimore and again with Carolina and brought It here for the first 3,4 years it was very effective, we were in the top of the league playing defense. This is something we're going to go back to, an aggressive penetrating 4-3 front with tighter coverage around it. It's a little bit back to the roots of what I know defensively, and so we're going to build it that way.

I think last year we did what we thought we had to through the illusion of the 3-4, you can bring different people from different angles. There are some good elements of the 3-4, but until you have the personnel to really adequately run it, it really makes it tough. You really need to be one or the other and we're going to be 4-3 going forward.

RCR: We've paid a lot of attention to Derek Harvey, and I know the Sack Numbers aren't there, but we've seen that he's getting it together on the field. Quentin Groves, on the other hand, seems to still be struggling. Can you comment on those two players and where you see them going in the next season?

JDR: Derek Harvey is a rugged, big, strong, every downs kind of defensive end. He's going to be a good player for us. He's going to be our left end. That's what we envisioned when we drafted him, we think he's a rugged every-downs player. He's got a good combination of size, speed, and temperament. He's done a nice job. He's done a nice job as a run stopper. We think the arrow is decidedly up in him going forward as a pass rusher as well.

Quentin Groves is a young man that wants it, that tries hard, that has some straight line speed. Really for Quentin it's going to be dependent on him and whether or not he can develop a move to go with speed. You just can't use solely straight line speed to win in this league. It's really going to be a big year for him to prove that he's going to take the next step as a football player.

He did help us on special teams, but we didn't draft him that high to come in and cover kicks. He has done a nice job in that role, but he got a lot of opportunities and it didn't come together for him the way I'm sure he'd like it to. Like I said, we're going to coach the heck out of everybody that's here, and try and take him to another level of play, but certainly he's got a lot of room for growth.

Coming tomorrow: Jaguars in the Community, David Garrard, and the "Del Rio" Offense

- Chris Harris