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Jacksonville = speed

Jags add to deep receiver arsenal with USC's Soward

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Posted: Saturday April 15, 2000 08:55 PM

  Keenan McCardell R. Jay Soward joins a Jacksonville receiving corps that includes Keenan McCardell (above) and Jimmy Smith. Jamie Squire/Allsport

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Concerned with amassing more offensive weapons instead of a lineman to block for them, the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday selected receiver R. Jay Soward of Southern Cal with their first-round pick in the NFL draft.

A 5-foot-9, 180-pound speed player, Soward will give quarterback Mark Brunell another option to choose from, as coach Tom Coughlin continues to seek matchups he can exploit.

The Jaguars finished 14-2 last season, one game away from the Super Bowl. With the 29th pick, they definitely had the look of a team in search of the final piece of the puzzle.

"Right away, we've helped ourselves on third down," Coughlin said. "When this player comes on the field, there's no way you're going to put your third corner on him. There's too much talent."

Still, the selection came as something of a surprise.

Jaguars First-Round Draft Picks
Year  Player  Pos  School 
2000  R. Jay Soward  WR  USC 
1999  Fernando Bryant  CB  Alabama 
1998  Fred Taylor  RB  Florida 
1998  Donovin Darius  Syracuse  
1997  Renaldo Wynn  DE  Notre Dame 
1996  Kevin Hardy  LB  Illinois 
1995  Tony Boselli  OT  USC 
1995  James Stewart  RB  Tennessee 

The Jaguars already have two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers in Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell and a big-play running back in Fred Taylor. They have no starting right guard, and two top players at that position, Cosey Coleman and Travis Claridge, remained on the board when Jacksonville picked.

Soward was considered undersized and mostly a big-play guy in his four seasons with the Trojans. He clocked a 4.40-second time in the 40-yard dash. He caught 161 passes for an average of 16.6 yards per catch. He also returned three kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns.

"We're trying to get the team to be more productive, better scoring, a better offensive team," Coughlin said. "The way you do that is by bringing on more weapons."

The Jaguars averaged 349 yards (seventh in the NFL) and 25 points (sixth) last season.

Coughlin also went against the grain by selecting a player with a less-than-perfect past.

Soward missed summertime workouts before his senior season, spending the time recording a rap album. He responded with 51 catches in his senior year, but his yards-per-catch declined and the season was considered a disappointment.

"The kid admits completely that he jeopardized the success of the team with the way he handled the summer program," Coughlin said. "The issue there is, does he have the motivation and desire? Yes. Is he humble about his senior year? Yes. Is he a playmaker and does he make plays? Yes."

Soward also scored three touchdowns on reverses over his career.

His arrival could spell trouble for Reggie Barlow, the incumbent punt returner and third receiver. Barlow has averaged only 14 catches over the last two years as the Jaguars have consistently struggled finding more options, especially when defenses double-team Smith.

Coughlin has always had a fascination with speed. Speedy receiver Alvis Whitted has been on the team two seasons despite catching just two passes. The Jaguars used three of eight picks in last year's draft on fast defensive backs, including starting cornerback Fernando Bryant.

"We wanted depth, speed and more people on the field that people have to pay attention to," Coughlin said. "R. Jay is one of those."

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