Jags' makeshift line takes step up in class

Shredded by injuries, Boselli & Co. have work cut out against Ravens

Pro Football

September 09, 2000|By Michael DiRocco | Michael DiRocco,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Days before the Jacksonville Jaguars' opener in Cleveland, All-Pro tackle Tony Boselli scanned the locker room, his eyes settling for a second on each of the four players who would line up alongside him.

And then Boselli, regarded by some as the best tackle in the league, delivered a guarantee.

"The offensive line," Boselli said, "will hold up its end. We won't hold this team back."

That's not exactly a Joe Namath, Super Bowl victory guarantee, but given the way things have gone for the Jaguars' offensive line the past 1 1/2 months, that was a pretty bold statement.

Injuries have forced the team to shuffle linemen throughout the preseason and the first game, and the result has been a lot of pressure on quarterback Mark Brunell and not a lot of running room.

And with one of the league's best defenses looming in the Ravens, the juggled line is going to have to pull itself together if the Jaguars are going to have a chance to win tomorrow at PSINet Stadium.

"It's at the point where it's critical now," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "Our line has to play better. If these guys decide they're going to be a huge factor, it will be a positive thing for our offensive team."

They were last week against the Browns. Jacksonville rushed for 119 yards and gave up just one sack in the 27-7 victory. And because he wasn't under extreme pressure, Brunell had one of his best games, completing 24 of 34 passes for 301 yards.

But that was against the Browns, who, while they will be better than last year, are still among the league's worst teams. The question this week is how will that offensive line handle Michael McCrary, Sam Adams, Rob Burnett and Tony Siragusa?

"We have to," Boselli said. "It's our job."

Right now, the job is just trying to keep up with all the changes. The only player in a familiar spot is Boselli, who is returning from surgery on the ACL in his right knee. He played just 10 plays this preseason and left last week's game in the second half, but the 6-foot-7, 319-pounder appears to be close to 100 percent.

Starting alongside him at left guard will be rookie Brad Meester, the team's second-round pick. The Jaguars weren't expecting to use Meester much this season, but he impressed coaches with his aggressive play and earned a starting spot.

Former Raven Quentin Neujahr, who started 16 games for the Jaguars in 1998, will start at center in place of injured John Wade (broken bone in his right foot).

At right guard will be former Steeler Brenden Stai, who has only been with the team for three weeks, and at right tackle is Zach Wiegert, who was the projected starter at the position prior to the season but who himself missed two weeks of camp with a hyperextended elbow.

Wiegert was moved to tackle to replace Pro Bowler Leon Searcy, who suffered a torn quadriceps muscle on the third day of training camp and is out until at least November.

In addition, backup tackles Todd Fordham (knee) and Joey Chutsz (back) have also been banged up.

"We've had guys moving around all summer and haven't had a chance to work in the same spot all summer," Wiegert said. "Once we get working together, we'll be fine."

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