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JAGUARS NOTEBOOK

Health issues could hold back defense

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars likely will know better today whether three defensive starters -- middle linebacker Mike Peterson, cornerback Kenny Wright, and defensive end Paul Spicer -- will be available for Saturday's game.

Peterson is the Jaguars' leading tackler, taking full advantage of the clean shots he has to make plays as a result of massive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson tying up blockers in front of him. The system works well, but if Peterson can't go -- he left Alltel Stadium Sunday with his right wrist in a cast -- that could reduce the efficiency of the Jaguars' front seven.

Preliminary word is that he might be able to play with the cast, but Tony Gilbert, considered a bigger hitter than Peterson but not as productive overall, could see a lot of action.

Wright, who left Sunday's game against the Titans with a left knee injury, had been a steady performer at right cornerback, though teams recently began to pick on him. In a 38-20 win over the Texans two weeks ago, Corey Bradford and Andre Johnson burned Wright for 50- and 53-yard touchdowns.

The alternatives after Wright are two inexperienced players, David Richardson and Scott Starks. The Jaguars could move nickel back Terry Cousins to corner if Wright can't go, but that would expose the secondary if the Patriots use multiple-receiver sets.

Spicer, one of the team's most effective pass rushers, broke his left hand in pregame warmups two weeks ago. He was held out of Sunday's action in hopes that he could return for the playoffs.

QB is OK

After Sunday's win over the Titans, quarterback David Garrard said he was OK with coach Jack Del Rio's decision to return Byron Leftwich to the lineup if he is physically ready. Garrard, who went 4-1 as a starter, told reporters, ''I'm fine with it. Byron is a competitor. I know he wants to be out there and I know he's going to do everything in his power to be out there." . . . With a short week to prepare, Jaguars coaches were in meetings all day, preparing a game plan, as the Gator Bowl was being played in the stadium . . . Jaguars offensive coordinator Carl Smith, who coached Patriots backup Matt Cassel at USC, said he was not surprised when the Patriots drafted Cassel even though he had never played for the Trojans, feeling his arm strength was good enough for the NFL . . . One of the techniques that Jaguars defensive line coach Ray Hamilton taught so well when he was in the same position under Pete Carroll in New England was the proper use of hands in fighting off offensive linemen. The Jaguars' linemen, particularly Stroud and Henderson, use their hands as well as any in the NFL. Hamilton spent a lot of time with Willie McGinest on the technique.

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