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Training days: Fast start key to Jaguars' success in 2008

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are full of quiet confidence. The group is on a mission to finally overtake the Indianapolis Colts and win the AFC South.

The Jaguars have nothing to hide because they are a very good team. Coach Jack Del Rio was kind enough to make practice and scrimmage tapes available to see the progress the team is making in the camp, which was a big help in evaluation process.

Last year, Del Rio had such faith in his run game and his defense that he went for it on fourth down 33 times and made it 19. The players love the aggressive playcalling, and the offensive coaches know they can run the ball on third down for three or four yards, which most teams rarely do. Del Rio isn't afraid to miss the fourth down call and just play defense.

Still, winning the division will not be easy for the Jaguars, especially for a team coming off an 11-5 season, including a 2-4 mark in the division. Two of those loses came against the Colts when the Jaguars gave up 57 points.

In attempt to close the gap on the Colts, the Jaguars made a decision to address the pass rush and expand the pressure packages. The Jaguars drafted Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second round. While Harvey is still holding out, Groves is getting a lot of reps. Harvey will eventually sign, but with the base defense already installed, waiting much longer could impact his ability to contribute this season. Groves has yet to demonstrate his elite speed because he is still thinking and not reacting. Keep in mind, the Jaguars have three division games in the first four weeks of the season, so a fast start is imperative.

I had a chance to sit down with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and came away impressed with his philosophy and the progress his unit has made. It's no secret the Jaguars are a running football team, but with David Garrard in command of the offense and capable of finding different receivers, the offense is going to score points.

Jerry Porter, who had surgery last month to repair a hamstring tear, indicated he would be ready by the start of the season. Combine Porter's skills with a crafty slot receiver in Dennis Northcutt, as well as Reggie Williams, and the passing game has a chance. Keep your eye on receiver Mike Walker, a third-round pick in 2007 who has really shinned in this camp.

Even with the passing game ready to take a step forward, if the Jaguars get a lead on the Colts heading into the fourth quarter, look for the rushing attack to be the difference. The Jaguars are capable of winning 11 to 12 games, but dethroning the Colts is the last hurdle.

Here's a look at the top six storylines surrounding the Jaguars as they prepare for the upcoming season.

1. Will Harvey get to camp in time to help?

Harvey has to soon realize that the Jaguars aren't going to move their offer very much, if at all, and the old coach's cry of lost camp time is the truth in this case. With Keith Rivers having signed with the Bengals, Harvey remains the last remaining first-round holdout, which is problematic. Factor in the Sedrick Ellis deal above Harvey, which the Jags have to consider too rich for their blood, and the perfect storm is in place. If Harvey misses much more time, he may be relegated to a backup situational pass rusher as a rookie. In the meantime, Paul Spicer and Reggie Haywood start in 2008. Groves flashes some speed and ability to get after the quarterback, but needs lots of work with technique and recognition.

2. Can the Jaguars replace Stroud?

Before trading Marcus Stroud to the Buffalo Bills, the Jaguars had to know they could replace with him with people on the roster. After watching the tapes, it appears Tony McDaniel will battle Rob Meier. For added depth, Derek Landri can spell the first two tackles. Landri has a good motor, technique and is serviceable. Del Rio pointed out that Stroud -- at 305 pounds -- isn't as big as some might think. The Jaguars feel the trio will hold up in his absence. Time will tell, but from what I witnessed the arrow is pointing up.

3. What will Williams bring to the defense?

[internal-link-placeholder-0]Camp: Jacksonville

Preseason games:
Aug. 9: Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 16: Miami, 7:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 23: at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 28: at Washington, 7 p.m. ET

The Jaguars already play an aggressive brand of defense, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will grow the attack package. Look for more of the Giants' fire-zone pressure scheme, especially against a pocket passer such as Peyton Manning. Timing and technique is critical, and Williams is a stickler for those issues.

4. Who are the darkhorses to come forward and help the Jaguars?

Every team needs a few unsung heroes to surface in order to win it all. The Jaguars have their fair share of players who impressed during my time in Jacksonville. Walker made a few great adjustments when Garrard scrambled out of the pocket, and will be a factor. Chauncey Washington, a seventh-round pick out of USC, has been impressive running the ball inside and out. In a repeat of 2007, Dennis Norman has had to take over at center for the injured Brad Meester. Norman can call out the defensive schemes with ease and demonstrated an ability to pull, which gives Jacksonville plenty of possibilities with schemes. McDaniel has quickness and penetration skills at the defensive tackle.

5. What is the biggest position battle?

On defense, there is solid depth at linebacker. Clint Ingram and Justin Durant are really battling for the outside backer position. At this point, Ingram is working more with the second team. Still, this one will go down to the wire, which only makes the team stronger.

On offense, the real battle will be at wide receiver. Right now, the depth chart lists Northcutt and Troy Williamson as the starters, but when Jerry Porter comes back he will be on the field. Reggie Williams and Matt Jones feel the pressure of the newcomers, and one of them is going to take a starting spot. That leaves Northcutt for the slot position in the three-wide receiver sets and Williamson battling Walker. It's a nice problem to have for Del Rio.

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