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 JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -A former linebacker, Jack Del Rio was typically a punt-and-play-defense coach during his first four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He's found a new niche now, though. Del Rio has become quite the risk-taker, gambling on fourth down more often than anyone else in the NFL.
And it's paying off for the Jaguars (6-3).
Jacksonville leads the league with 11 fourth-down conversions and 23 fourth-down attempts this season. The team had three conversions - each of them led to touchdowns - in Sunday's 28-13 victory at Tennessee.
ce to keep it going.''
Part of Del Rio's aggressiveness can be explained easily.
Kicker Josh Scobee injured his leg in the season opener and missed the last eight games. The Jaguars signed 43-year-old John Carney to replace him, but Carney doesn't have the same leg strength as Scobee, so Del Rio has opted to go for it several times in long field-goal range.
But that's not the only reason for Del Rio's change in philosophy.
Although the coach downplayed all the fourth-down calls - ``I don't care to divulge my thinking,'' he said - several players said Del Rio's play-calling shouldn't be a surprise since he's challenged his players all year.
It started when he demoted starting receivers Matt Jones and Reggie Williams over the summer. Williams responded with his best training camp and has played a key role in the offense this season.
Del Rio challenged quarterback David Garrard when he released Byron Leftwich a week before the opener. He challenged the defense twice - once after the unit gave up a franchise record for rushing yards and again after it gave up a team record for passing yards and total yards. Both times, the defense rebounded with strong a performance.
And Del Rio's biggest challenge came last week after two players were arrested. Del Rio demanded more accountability and professionalism from everyone on the team.
Through it all, Del Rio kept leaving his offense on the field on fourth down.
``There are a lot of different factors,'' Del Rio said. ``Sometimes possessing the ball is important. Sometimes playing to win a particular circumstance is important. A lot of different factors go into it.
``Ultimately, it comes down to what do we think gives us the best opportunity to win the game. That's what the choices have to be about.''
The Jaguars rank 21st in the league in fourth-down conversions (47.8 percent), but they are considerably better in fourth-and-short situations. They are 9-of-12 with 3 yards or less, and 7-of-9 with a yard to get.
``As players, we're like the fans: we always want to go for it,'' guard Vince Manuwai said. ``We always want to take control of the game. That's the kind of attitude you have to have to win the game. You can't just punt and expect to win the game. You have to be aggressive and we have been.
``It's been working and we want it to continue.''
It worked to perfection against the Titans.
Jones-Drew ran for 9 yards on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter, and the Jags scored five plays later to take a 7-0 lead. Faced with the same down and distance in the second, Jones-Drew picked up 3 yards and then capped the drive with an 8-yard TD run that made it 14-0.
Although Jacksonville's fake field goal attempt on fourth-and-10 from the 24 failed in the third, Quinn Gray hooked up with Dennis Northcutt for 4 yards on fourth-and-2 in the fourth. The Jags scored a few plays later to make it 28-13 and essentially seal the victory.
``We enjoy it because it says he's putting a lot of confidence in the guys up front to get that stuff done,'' left tackle Khalif Barnes said. ``It's good that you have a coach who wants to call those things. It says a lot about what he thinks about us.
``He's putting his neck out there on the line to make that call and you don't want to let him down. It's a pride thing, and it feels good when you pick them up.''
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