Set your board. Stick to your board. Build with a foundation first. Trust what you see.
With the first pick of his second draft, Jaguars general manager Gene Smith looks to have stuck to his tenets, outside opinion be damned.
Picking for a team that’s struggled to sell tickets and generate excitement, Smith wasn’t necessarily expected to take anyone flashy.
But Jacksonville wasn’t expected to take Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu either.
And that’s kind of the point here.
Owner Wayne Weaver wasn’t looking for pizzazz when he installed the low-key Smith, a scout who’d been with the team since it started in 1994, as GM last year. He was looking for solid football acumen and a steady hand.
The rushed judgments will say the Jaguars reached for Alualu. When Jacksonville is on the clock, Smith is obligated to factor in how a favored player is valued by the rest of the league. Count me among those who believed they liked C.J. Spiller and Rolando McClain. If, with those two gone, Alualu was the best player on the Jaguars’ board and they stayed true to their months of homework, well despite our inclination to snicker, we have to wait and see just what they got.
“I don’t mind defending players that I feel very strongly about because I understand where you’re coming from, I do,” Smith told Jacksonville reporters. “There will be questions on this guy. He wasn’t certainly in everybody’s mock draft at the top end of the first round but he was certainly on our draft board.
“And again we’re going to allow the body of our work drive our decision-making and with all due respect, I feel very confident that this guy will come in and be what we want to help our team to get to where we want to go.”
Said coach Jack Del Rio when asked about selling Alualu to Jaguars fans: “I think we have to trust our work, and then people have to trust the people doing the work.”
Smith is the son of a construction man, and talks over and over about building a foundation. His first draft featured a first- and second-round one-two punch of offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton.
Jacksonville is now at least four-deep on the interior defensive line. A fading, 31-year old John Henderson may now be available via trade. Last year’s third-round choice Terrance Knighton is a solid run stuffer and journeyman Attiyah Ellison earned a new contract with his showing last year.
Alualu, who is of Samoan decent and grew up in Hawaii, is married with two kids and not far from a degree in ethnic studies from Cal. He said the Titans and the Patriots rated as the two other teams that showed the most interest in him.
He’s never been to Florida. But one day not too far in the future he’ll be in the Sunshine State to sign a deal that includes a signing bonus well beyond what would have come where he was projected -- in the late-first or early-second round.
The two long-time lead dogs in the AFC, New England and Indianapolis, don’t typically draft in line with outside opinion and it’s worked out fine for them.
Don’t get me wrong: Smith doesn’t have the skins on the wall of Bill Belichick or Bill Polian.
But if you want to try to find certain qualities to build around and not fall victim to what one AFC South Blog reader and great debater, Nathan Cherolis, recently called “a common mind set among the decision makers that blinds them in areas.”
So what if it’s Smith and his scouting department that saw this clearly, and it’s all the teams that valued Alualu less that were blinded to an accurate value? Then we won’t be talking about a reach when the fair time frame for evaluating arrives. We’ll be talking about Smith’s courage and praising him for how bold he was.
“I’m not trying to win a popularity contest,” Smith said. “I’m trying to win a Super Bowl and I feel like he’s someone that can help us do that… “He’ll bring a lot of energy. He’s a type of player on the defensive side that inspires others…
“He’s got a lot of the things that you look in a defensive lineman at this level, a guy that can be a force inside. Maybe for a scout it’s probably a little easier to understand because we have a little bit more knowledge of him throughout his career. I certainly embrace the questions and trying to get more knowledge about Tyson because I’m excited to have him, again, a part of this team.”
Everyone’s looking for outside-the-box thinkers, people who don’t fall easily in line with conventional wisdom, who can make the case for something original. But when we see someone who might be trying to set such a course, we are appalled and offended by his straying from the pack.
When I texted a scout about how early he felt 10th overall was for Alualu, his first reply was one word, a reaction much the same as mine: “Wow.” He later said his team expected Alualu to be drafted in Friday’s second round. Another AFC insider said he loved Alualu as a player, but also figured he’d be a Friday guy.
I don’t picture Smith flinching at such reactions or caring much about them.
He’s got a window -- three or four or five years -- to build a small-market team into an efficient one that can contend with mighty Indianapolis, budding Houston and steady Tennessee in the AFC South.
To do so, Smith’s clearly going to stick his neck out.
If it gets chopped off, so be it. But let’s not swing the axe just yet. Please, not yet.