- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
At the end of a week with three OTA sessions Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio met with the local media. The Jaguars were kind enough to share a transcript, and defensive tackle Derek Landri was a big topic of conversation.
Landri was listed at 282 pounds last year and the team still has him at that number on its Web site's roster. But Del Rio said Landri has bulked up and put himself in position to contend for more time.
"You can't tell for sure in the trenches until you get the pads on, but Derek's done a real nice job of adding some weight, some good weight, and we're going to see how that translates into play," Del Rio said. "I think it'll give him an opportunity to be in the mix for more of an every-down role as opposed to kind of a specialist. I know that's what he really has in his heart; it's what he'd like to see. He's working at it. He's been a great kind of a change of pace guy for us and he's shown up big in some big games and he played well in the playoff game against Pittsburgh a couple years ago. So he's had some moments where he's really made an impact. I think in order to give himself a chance to be an every-down player, he needs to add a little bit of weight and he's working at that.
"I talked to him about (adding) five pounds a year if he could do that. Coaching Ray Lewis in Baltimore, when he came into the league he was 225 (pounds). He added five pounds a year and then all of a sudden you see the guy he is now; he's about 255 pounds. I think if you heap on too much weight all at once it's hard to move, but he's been able to add I think about 15 good solid pounds and we'll see how that translates into play when we get into pads and into camp. But he's the right kind of guy the way he approaches things; very determined, very passionate about football and I don't ever doubt that a guy that has that kind of determination will find a way. I think somehow he's going to find a way to play in this league and play for a long time."
I thought the Jaguars might have read too much into Landri's playoff performance against Pittsburgh. I know they were without Marcus Stroud seven of their last eight regular season games and the two playoff games in 2007. But I didn't think they did well enough to replace him after dealing him to Buffalo.
We've hit on this topic several times in the past year:
Del Rio and the Jaguars talked about life after Stroud last August.
In November, I rated the struggle to replace Stroud as part of the reason things fell apart for the Jags.
In December, when the Titans' Jason Jones had a huge game in Albert Haynesworth's absense, I used Landri's game against Pittsburgh as an example of how a team can get in trouble by overestimating a potential replacement.
And new GM Gene Smith discussed the desire for a new tackle tandem to provide the same sort of one-two punch the team had with Henderson and Stroud in March.
Rob Meier works about as hard as anyone I've seen, but Del Rio conceded that Meier, who turns 32 on Aug. 29, is a player who may be at his best in a more limited role.
"I think Rob is a terrific role player," Del Rio said. "He's capable certainly of going in and playing 30 snaps a game. I think that's where he's at his best. I think he's been a tough, dependable guy since day one of my being here. There's nobody tougher than Rob on game day.... Ideally I'd like to have Rob in more of a rotation rather than being the full-time starter playing 50 snaps a game. I'd rather him take 25 snaps a game and be at his very best. I think when he was in that role, I think he was at his best and our line was the strongest. If we get good enough where we can do that then that will help us be successful."
John Henderson is going to be in there, and the top candidates to get more action beside him are now Landri, third-round draft pick Terrance Knighton and Atiyyah Ellison, a player the Jaguars acquired late last season off of San Francisco's practice squad. Ellison was originally a third-round pick by Carolina out of Missouri in 2005. A lot of other teams in the league know to keep an eye on defensive lineman that leave Carolina, as some good talent has shaken free.
"There's nothing going to be given anywhere for anyone," Del Rio said. "Now we all expect Big John to be the guy that's going to end up starting there, but we're going to play the best players and we're going to let them compete and we'll see how it all plays out. But I think that group with Terrance the draft pick and with Atiyyah, a guy we added late, with Derek gaining weight, I think that group has a chance if they continue working the way they have thus far, have a chance to really helping us fortify the middle of our defensive line. It's been a little bit of an issue for us the last year or two."
This is one of the spots where I think Del Rio is at his best.
A lot of coaches tiptoe around and won't so much as say the obvious out loud. But these players obviously know where they stand, and I think Del Rio's candor is appreciated by them. I know it's appreciated by those of us who write, and read, about the Jags.
Del Rio clearly respects Meier, but isn't interested in pretending the tackle is something he's not and the coach is willing to admit that the team is looking for an answer at a spot that's been an issue rather than standing at a podium saying, "Would the crowd please disperse, there is nothing to see here."