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Jaguars, Leftwich Continue Their Developmental Plan

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H15

Shhhh. We're trying to keep this kind of hush-hush, so be careful who you talk to: There is a surprise party planned for the NFL playoffs, sometime in January, and -- get this -- it'll be at Jacksonville's place.

That's how a complete idiot might describe the Jaguars' outlook. However, it is true that the team has considerable cause for optimism, as it looks to build on its improvement over the second half of last year.

_____ Jacksonville Jaguars _____
Jaguars Section

_____NFL '04_____
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The NFL's Top 10 storylines of '04

_____Team Previews_____
In predicted order of finish

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
New York Giants

NFC South
New Orleans Saints
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

Much will depend on the development of quarterback Byron Leftwich (H.D. Woodson), who had an impressive rookie season after taking over from Mark Brunell in Week 4. Leftwich accumulated 2,819 passing yards, the fourth-highest total for a rookie in NFL history; not surprisingly, Peyton Manning sits atop that list, but that the next two are Chris Weinke and Rick Mirer should be an indication that Leftwich still has room for improvement.

"I'm pleased with the way he's progressing," Coach Jack Del Rio said.

Del Rio wants to play a hard-nosed, ball-control style, so an effective running game is essential, and essential to that is the health of Fred Taylor. After missing 24 full games and parts of nine others in his first four seasons, Taylor has started the past 32 games and rushed for a team-record 1,572 yards in 2003.

Defensively, the Jaguars have some holes but are strong in the most important place: the middle. Defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, the team's top picks in the 2001 and 2002 drafts, respectively, are nimble giants who were the primary reason Jacksonville ranked second against the rush last year. On the edges, however, Jacksonville isn't sure where its pass rush will come from after releasing erstwhile sackmasters Hugh Douglas and Tony Brackens; Paul Spicer has the most experience but much more bland than his name would suggest.

Behind them, the Jaguars have improved their personnel by bringing in linebacker Greg Favors and safety Deon Grant, both of whom played important roles in NFC champion Carolina's stingy defense.

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