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EXCLUSIVE: Big Cat Country Interview with Jack Del Rio Part 4

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Our much longer than anticipated conversation with Jack Del Rio continues...

RCR: I can't let you get away without talking about Montell Owens. Such a remarkable player, I can tell you lots of good things that we think about him, but I'd rather hear your take on him.

JDR: Montell Owens is one of the great stories during my time here in Jacksonville. This is a young man, if you remember, that was the 9th running back in the room. He was the 9th running back in the pecking order, an undrafted free agent out of Maine, that had zero chance of making our team. Actually, it was greater than zero, but he had a very low chance of making our roster unless he found a niche for himself. That niche was special teams. He recognized that and poured his heart and soul into it. He is the consummate professional, he is the special teams captain, he's a great example of how you can will your way onto a football team. He's got some talent as a running back, he can play some fullback, he's everything you could want in a football player. He's done a great job in the community. My daughter went to see him play trumpet recently, something that he's very talented at.

I know he's a first alternate as a special teams player in the Pro Bowl. The league is starting to recognize his talent on special teams. I would say that he's as good as anybody in this league. Sometimes it's the 2nd year when they take what you did on the field and recognize it and put you on the field for the Pro Bowl.

RCR: We were talking on BCC about rooting for the Chargers so that Owens could make it to the Pro Bowl.

JDR: On the last onside kick, you know Osgood came up limping. I was saying to myself "you never want to wish bad things on anybody, but if happened to strain his hip and can't play for a couple weeks, that wouldn't be all bad for Montell"

DAVID HALPRIN: I wanted to sneak in a question that's a little broader than the Jaguars, more on the NFL itself. With the looming uncapped year and the labor negotiations, is that effecting the way teams are approaching the offesason as opposed to other years? Is there a feeling that this offseason is being treated differently than other years?

JDR: We've only talked about the need to have a plan and an Idea about how next year can unwind for us. At this point our energies are focused on what we can do in 2010. I think in the back of everyone's mind, we recognize that there is the possibility of many different things happening and we all recognize that there will be some work between now and the time that 2011 gets here that we need to do to be sure that we are prepared. It could several different ways and has a football team we need to be prepared to adjust and handle whichever way it comes down.

David Halprin: You've got ties to both the Saints and Vikings, who do you got?

JDR: I'm for the Saints all the way, I loved my tme in Minnesota, but my playing career and my coaching career both started in New Orleans, My daughter lives in New Orleans, I met my wife in New Orleans, I've got a lot of dear friends in New Orleans, there's no question that I'm rooting for the Saints hard.

RCR: What does a Jack Del Rio offense look like?

JDR: This is a great question for this sort of fourm. I have always let our offensive coordinators be what they want to be. Dirk Koetter brought a system here and really the passing offense that we're using now is something he utilized his time at Arizona State earlier in his Coaching life.

I want to have an explosive offense. I worked with Tony Dungy and played with Tony Dungy in Minnesota and Tony's now known as a guy with a wide open offense, or was before he retired. I think when you play at a high-level and score a lot of points, than that's what you become known as. I covet that, we just haven't become that. I think the one thing that you try to do as a coach is to play to the strengths of your football team.

When we first got here, it was clear that we'd have to play good defense and be able to run the ball in order to have a chance. We've done that, we've done that pretty well. Offensively, I'd like us to have a little more freshness to it going forward. I think we can do some things formationaly and personnel wise that will give us an advantage, we're looking hard at that this offseason. I definitely know that this league right now is favoring the passing game, high percentage throws to give receivers opportunities to get yards after catch are not going away, with the rules that the league has put in place are geared toward the passing game. We're going to continue to look at ways to get the ball through he air to some of our playmakers and give them a chance to run after the catch. That'll be part of what we do and what we study this offseason.

I still also believe that you have to be able to run the ball when you want to. There are times in games, whether it's weather, whether you're trying to seal the game, that you can run it out on people is something we need to be able to do. Based on our personnel, right now, David Garrard will have more success if we're able to run the ball and that we can continue to make defenses stack up against the run.

RCR: Will this mean that we'll see Zach Miller and Marcades Lewis on the field at the same time?

JDR: No question about that. Absolutely. I think what you have in Zach Miller is a legitimate threat as a speed tight end, an F tight end, kind of a move guy who can defeat you in space. We have to defend against those guys in our own conference, Owen Daniels in Houston, Dallas Clark in Indianapolis, and Bo Scaife in Tennessee, each of them have one. He's one of those mismatch guys who's too fast for linebackers and to strong for a lot of safeties. These guys become difficult to defend and we have one, Zach can be that guy. We just have to build on what he did this year going forward. When you look at it, he did a great job coming from college, late round pick former quarterback, to develop at the tight end position. He's never going to be an every down, end of the line power tight end that you run behind, but he can do some things in the passing game that excite us and we will defiantly be looking to get him more involved going forward.

RCR: His game against Cleveland was really a bright spot in an otherwise depressing end of the season, but in a recent interview with Vic Ketchman, you get the impression that it wasn't good enough for him. He talks about bukling up and getting to be a better blocker during the offseason...

JDR: This year his role was special times, learn the position, find a niche for him. Next year we're going to build on that, he's got a real bright future. Look offensively, you've got the two young tackles, you've got mike Thomas, zach miller, and rashad Jennings, those guys are going to be good players for a long time here. I'm very excited about what we can do with them going forward.

RCR: That first game with Mike Thomas, with the reverses and fake reverses, that really gave the fans something to look at, especially after the years of mediocre, poor wide receivers.

JDR: Mike Thomas had a nice start to his career. With all the young guys, the big point for me this spring with them is that "what you did getting ready for last year, what you accomplished was a nice way to start your career, but you can't sit there and say there and think that this year with heightened expectations will be good enough. We're going to need you to build on that, to grow, to work, to commit, to dedicate yourself to bringing your game to another level, cause we need you, we need you to grow. That's going to be the challenge for all these young players that we're talking about.

Mike Thomas, who knows if he dosen't become the next steve smith. I don't know, I'm not going to limit him, but I know that he's given himself a chance to start his career in a way that's very exciting for him and very exciting for us. I think the one thing that we're excited this year is for David to have an offseason where he can throw to his receivers that are going to be here for quarterback school and OTA's. Last year, at this time, we knew that we were basically gutting our receiver corps, we didn't have march, april, and may to really begin to throw to the receivers who will actually be here, that'll be valuable time for our football team, in terms of development and going to another level.

RCR: You touched on an interesting point, Mr. Weaver recently cited Peyton Manning and the work he's put in with the Colts receivers that David needs to work on. What do you think of this criticism of David that he's not putting in the same sort of time as Peyton Manning did with his young receivers?

JDR: The example of PM and some of the things that he's done, being the very best, there isn't another quarterback in the league that matches that. If that's going to be your standard, you're going to be disappointed. I understand that, he's probably the best guy going, we want to be the best, that's why we make the comparison. I think from David's standpoint, this offseason is huge for him because, as we said, he'll get that opportunity. I do know that he has a desire to lead this football team the right way and help us bring a championship to Jacksonville. We need to, as coaches, show him the way and then hold him accountable to take us there. I think that there is room for him to grow there; I think he recognizes that, and I think he's willing. From my standpoint, what's most important is that if we have guys that are willing and we show them the way, that gives us an opportunity and a chance to do the things that we want to do.

RCR: Do you think this is the year where the Jaguars begin to develop the next quarterback of the Jaguars?

JDR: Well, I think Luke McCown has a chance to develop as a quarterback, that we can count on to help us win games. I really think that and I don't want to shortchange him at all. We'll always look for an opportunity to upgrade ourselves wherever we think we can. I do believe that we can win with David. I believe that as a football team we need to be stronger in several areas and I think David will look a lot better when we do that for him and for our own football team. I'm very confident that we can win with David.

You always have an eye open and are willing to consider anyone and everyone that can help your team get better at any position, including the quarterback position. I don't feel any different about the quarterback position. I think you have to always keep your options open, do a good job of going through the draft process and evaluating the talent that's available and make the right decision when it's time.

I know at some point we'll have those kind of decisions of whether or not there is a quarterback that is an elite player that can take us to an entirely different level. If there's peyton manning of 2010 sitting out there, we'll have to take a look.

RCR: You are prepared, I assume, for the off-season of incessant questions about Tim Tebow? I don't want to bring him up directly, but he's going to be a common question of the next few years. You can't throw a stick without someone in the national media saying that if the Jaguars don't draft Tim Tebow, all hope is lost and the team is all but moved to LA. This of course often comes from the mouth of the same guy who said that Derek Cox was undraftable.

JDR: Yeah, all of that kind of shakes out in the wash. You'd have to have your head in the sand to not know that you're gonna field those kind of questions. Everywhere I go people say "I know you can't talk about it Coach, but can we get Tebow?". It's just constant, you know you're gonna get it. I know how Gene feels, we're going to go through the process and rank our players and you take one in each round and you wait and 31 other teams get an opportunity to draft. It's not like recruiting in College where the player can choose where he wants to go, there's a draft process that he'll be a part of, along with the other different players who are draft eligible. So different teams will stack their board as they see it and he'll come off the board wherever he matches up where a team feels he meets a need. I know they'll be a lot of conversation about that.


-Chris Harris