A curious reporter posed the question, and Hugh Douglas answered the only way he knows—candidly. The period for signing unrestricted free agents was only a few days old when Douglas was asked if he might join the Jaguars following five seasons with the Eagles. He said if he did, it would be "only for the money."
It was a throwaway line, but now that the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end is a Jaguar, he's still trying to live it down. He says he hadn't realized at the time that Jacksonville ranked higher in total defense (20th in the NFL) than his most ardent suitors, Kansas City and Seattle. Nor had he studied Jacksonville's roster closely enough to see that it had some really talented players. "Eventually I realized the situation wasn't that bad," he says.
Though Douglas did go for the money (he received a $6 million signing bonus), he believes Jacksonville has more promise than last season's 6-10 record might suggest. Jack Del Rio, the player-friendly new coach who was hired last January to replace straitlaced Tom Coughlin, wants his defense to set a tone, and the 6'2", 280-pound Douglas should be just what the Jaguars' tepid pass rush needed. Douglas has 73� sacks in eight NFL seasons, and last year he notched 12�, despite playing nearly half the season with a painful bone bruise on his left knee. Jacksonville had only 36 sacks in 2002, and no Jaguar got more than 6�.
Mike Smith, the Jaguars' new defensive coordinator, loves Douglas's exceptional lower-body strength, quick hands and relentlessly aggressive play. Smith also hopes that Douglas will have a positive impact in the locker room. He was the resident jester in Philadelphia, gleefully baiting teammates and often supplying the funniest quotes to reporters. He has been more subdued since coming to Jacksonville, but Del Rio says, "He'll lighten things up, which is what we want to do with this group."
Douglas, 32, has already found plenty of other jokesters in his new workplace. "I think I'm getting paid back for all the stuff I pulled in Philadelphia," he says. "There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not the butt of somebody's joke. [Linebacker] Eric Westmoreland rips on my hair and my clothes every chance he gets. I've learned there's a lot of personality on this team. The guys probably couldn't show it under the last coach, but they're letting it out now."
Jacksonville's defense could create problems for opponents if Douglas hits double digits in sacks. The health of defensive end Tony Brackens—who is recovering from an appendectomy and microfracture surgery on his left knee—remains uncertain, but promising defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, who each had 6� sacks in 2002, are both back Seeking to improve the unit's speed, the Jaguars added free-agent linebackers Mike Peterson, who led the Colts in tackles in 2002, and Keith Mitchell. Jacksonville should be more aggressive, reflecting the principles Del Rio used while coordinating a Panthers' defense that ranked second in the league last season. "Our attitude is focused on playing faster," says strong safety Donovin Darius. "Last year we were passive. We played a lot of zone and read-and-react schemes, and at times we weren't all on the same page. I can already tell we'll be more in sync."
The 40-year-old Del Rio has injected energy into a franchise that sorely needed it after eight seasons under the dictatorial Coughlin. The new coach acknowledges he doesn't have a great feel for his team yet. "I'm looking forward to seeing how they respond when adversity hits," he says.
Douglas is ready. He's heard talk that the large signing bonus he received will sap his motivation and that his knee might be worse than he'll admit. He scoffs at both suggestions. "I don't know when all these issues came up with me," he says. "Everything was fine when I was helping Philadelphia make the playoffs. Now my age is a factor and my knee is a question mark. But people can say what they want. If I just play my game, I'll be fine."
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