Jack Del Rio stepped to the podium on the day he was introduced as the Jaguars’ Head Coach, it didn’t take long to realize he was a presence. He commands attention and is a force in whatever he’s doing. He was that way as a player, as an assistant coach, and now as a Head Coach. His first foray into the selection process known as the college draft confirms Del Rio’s “in charge” status. He’s not pussy footing around, he’s making decisions, and following his ideas without worrying about politics, what people think or who’s toes he might step on. Mark Brunell might be an icon to some Jaguars fans, but Del Rio, and Personnel Director James Harris know he’s a football player with a certain amount of value and a limited shelf life for production on the field. They thought they needed a quarterback, so they got one, Byron Leftwich from Marshall in the first round. “Shack is a pretty good poker player,” Owner Wayne Weaver said after the selection. Harris passed on giving up an extra pick to the Vikings to ensure the Jaguars got Leftwich, instead banking on Minnesota and Baltimore not having time to get the deal together before the clock ran out. Harris was right, and the Jaguars rushed to the podium when they were on the clock, turning in their selection card with Leftwich’s name on it. “He’s the player we wanted all along,” Del Rio said while answering questions during the Jaguars fan fest on the field at the stadium. “Was he the top rated quarterback on your board, better than Palmer,” I asked from the cow pen set up for reporters. “I’d rather not get into that,” Del Rio said with a smile, “Yes he was,” he added somewhat sotto voce, to the delight of the crowd.
Do the Jaguars need a quarterback? It depends on what your definition of need is I suppose. I’ve said all along that they couldn’t go wrong in the first round, unless they took a quarterback with their first selection. But what they’ve done is put their own stamp on this team, given a new face to the Jaguars in just 24 hours, and that face is a smiling quarterback from Marshall. “He was just too good a player to pass up,” Harris said during his time in front of the fans. What they’ve told Mark Brunell is that he won’t finish his career in a Jaguars uniform, unless he decides to retire after the next season or so. “We expect Mark to be a mentor to Byron,” Weaver admitted, “We have our quarterback situation solved for the next ten years.” How much longer Brunell will play is anybody’s guess, but he won’t be on the Jaguars roster past next year, if that, because of his bonus and salary cap number.
There were no “reaches” in the Jaguars first four picks. Leftwich can play, and it’ll be only a matter of time before he’s a starter. Rashean Mathis will find a spot in the defensive backfield either next to Donovin Darius, or replacing him if the Jaguars move Darius through a trade. They picked up an offensive lineman, a tight end and a running back to fill immediate holes. They’re not dealing with sentimentality; they’re dealing with reality. “We’re not in the message business,” Del Rio has said more than once, “we’re in the business of putting together the best football team we can.”