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Jaguars struggling to find the right combination in secondary

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville's secondary has been a shuffled mess this season.

Two potential starting safeties were traded, another one was cut twice. One cornerback was benched, another one switched positions. And two second-year guys ended up getting thrown in the lineup.

The result was five different starting combinations in seven games -- and one the worst pass defenses in the league.

The Jaguars (3-4) have allowed an NFL-high 16 touchdown passes, and have surrendered more 20- and 40-yard gains through the air than any other defense.

"We are beginning to see improvement and I believe the fruits should be right around the corner," coach Jack Del Rio said. "It can't get here quick enough for me, but we're going to keep pushing."

Jacksonville was burned for nearly 1,300 yards passing the first four games, getting torched by Kyle Orton, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick and Peyton Manning. The Jaguars have settled down since. Then again, they faced Buffalo and run-first teams Tennessee and Kansas City.

Nonetheless, the Bills, Titans and Chiefs each found the end zone at least twice through the air.

"You're forced with having to do the best you can to find that right combination and then to work it," Del Rio said. "We are all over that. I mean the guys are bringing great energy, players and coaches attacking this thing aggressively."

The Jaguars have done all they can until the offseason.

They traded former first-round draft pick Reggie Nelson to Cincinnati and released fellow starter Gerald Alexander during final roster cuts, seemingly content to go with veterans Anthony Smith and Sean Considine.

But after Smith and Considine struggled early, the Jaguars traded Smith to Green Bay and benched Considine. They brought back Alexander for three games, then decided to go in a completely different direction. Del Rio turned the safety spots over to Courtney Greene and former cornerback Don Carey.

Del Rio figured the second-year guys would make some mistakes, but believed they had more upside with their inexperience and athleticism.

"There are going to be some growing pains because I'm doing things that I didn't get a chance to do in OTAs, minicamps," said Carey, who played safety at Norfolk State before moving to cornerback for his final two years. "There are going to be a few mistakes that I would have made then that would be routine now, that I'm going to make now and have to make sure I don't do again."

Making the secondary even more unsettled was cornerback Derek Cox's situation. Cox was benched during the season opener, pulled after giving up a long reception, and played just one snap the next three games. The second-year pro, a third-round draft pick who started every game as a rookie in 2009, returned to the rotation Oct. 10 at Buffalo and played one of his best games.

He was back in the starting lineup last week at Kansas City.

Although Dwayne Bowe burned the Jaguars for two touchdown catches, the starting secondary group will remain intact this week at Dallas (1-5).

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"It's an opportunity for this particular bunch to develop as one," Cox said. "You just want the unit to be a wole and operate on the same page. Having that chemistry and knowing those guys hand knowing where people are going to be and believing in them and trusting in them, that accounts for something."

The Cowboys are having to start 38-year-old Jon Kitna in place of Tony Romo, a move that could benefit the Jaguars against the league's sixth-best passing team.

Then again, Kitna could join a growing list of quarterbacks who have taken advantage of Jacksonville's shuffled secondary.

"We think we can continue to hone in on the things that we need to do and do it a little bit better as we go, and then we can make dramatic improvements," Del Rio said. "That's really how we're approaching it right now. We're teaching, we're coaching. What is a good thing is we're not seeing some of the repeat mistakes. Guys are having things happen, they're learning from the experience, they're doing it a little bit better and there is growth.

"I know we want to see it be perfect right now. Believe me, I'd love to see that. But it's coming."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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