The Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday lost starting strong safety Donovin Darius for the rest of the season when an MRI examination confirmed that the eighth-year veteran tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee during Sunday's loss at Indianapolis.
Darius indicated on Sunday, after being injured on a second-quarter punt return, that he feared the ACL had been torn and that he might be sidelined for the balance of 2005. He left the RCA Dome on crutches, apparently resigned to his fate. Team officials suggested as well that the injury was a potentially season-ending one, but delayed further comment until the MRI exam was completed.
It is the second major injury of Darius' career, the first coming in 2001 when a fractured left hip sidelined him for the final five games of the season. It is not known when Darius will have surgery, but it will likely come in the next two weeks. The Jaguars placed their defensive stalwart on injured reserve Wednesday.
Fourth-year veteran Deke Cooper, who replaced Darius on Sunday, will move into the starting lineup next to free safety Deon Grant. Known primarily as a special teams ace, Cooper has played well from scrimmage when provided the opportunity.
Still, there is no denying the significance of Darius' loss to a young Jacksonville defense that ranks among the NFL's best and most aggressive units, and which played very well in the 10-3 defeat at the RCA Dome, a game in which the Jaguars held the potent Colts offense scoreless for three quarters.
"Donovin has been an integral part of our defense since we've been here," said defensive coordinator Mike Smith. "Knowing Donovin, he'll still be a part of it, even though he won't be able to play. Deke will have a chance to step in and be a starter in this league. We feel he has starter capability. We don't anticipate a big drop-off."
Before Darius' emergence in the coverage game last season, there were some within the Jacksonville organization who felt Cooper was actually pushing him for the starting job.
The team's first-round choice in the 1998 draft, Darius has been a starter since his rookie campaign, and always a force against the run. Often criticized for his seeming liabilities in coverage, Darius became a solid player versus the pass in 2004, clearly rounding out his overall game, and posted a career-best five interceptions. He demonstrated that he was more than an "in the box" safety and was capable of authoring game-altering plays.
The former Syracuse star for three straight years was designated the Jags' "franchise" player, and lobbied hard this summer for a trade, writing open letters to the media in both Minnesota and Miami. The Jaguars nearly dealt Darius to the Vikings, but the trade was not consummated, and Minnesota instead signed Darren Sharper as a free agent.
A frustrated Darius signed the one-year franchise qualifying offer out of frustration but then, in late July, was rewarded with a three-year contract extension through 2008 that made him the NFL's third highest paid safety.
In seven-plus seasons, Darius has appeared in 105 games, all starts, and has registered 796 tackles, two sacks, 14 interceptions, seven forced fumbles and six recoveries.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.