The Jacksonville Jaguars' already dubious pass rush has gotten even more suspect, with coach Jack Del Rio announcing that defensive end Tony Brackens, the club's leading sacker in 2003 and also the top sacker in franchise history, has a torn muscle behind his right knee.
Brackens, 29, will be sidelined for at least a week. The setback not only weakens the Jaguars' outside pass rush but could also jeopardize the ability of the eight-year pro to earn a spot on the Jacksonville roster. Brackens had seen only limited duty in the first 10 days of camp and the coaching staff needs time to assess his viability to the defense..
"It makes it more difficult for the staff," Del Rio acknowledged. "We really need the training camp to evaluate him."
The Jaguars released Brackens in the spring, primarily for salary cap considerations, and then re-signed him in June to a more palatable one-year contract. The former University of Texas standout received a $300,000 signing bonus, a base salary of $1.025 million and a chance to augment his compensation through incentives.
But as a vested veteran, with more than four years of league service, Brackens is entitled to his entire base salary if he is on the opening day roster. So team officials will have to decide, particularly if Brackens doesn't recover quickly from the knee injury, if they want to take the gamble on spending more than $1 million to keep him around.
The injury is just the latest knee ailment for Brackens, who has been plagued by a variety of knee problems for much of his career. Many felt his career was over last summer, as Brackens missed much of camp while recovering from offseason "microfracture" knee surgery. But he bounced back, played in 15 games, and led the Jags in sacks, with six.
Jacksonville managed only 24 sacks in 2003, the fourth-worst total in the NFL, and one of the reasons Brackens was re-signed was to provide pressure on the pocket. Del Rio said there are no plans to audition other ends. "There really aren't going to be any saviors out there on the waiver wire," he said.
Beset by the severe knee problems the last several years, Brackens has not played an entire 16-game season since 2000, and in the last few campaigns has been forced to curtail his practice time.
Not only a natural pass rusher with innate closing speed, Brackens is a playmaker capable of creating turnovers, as evidenced by his 27 career forced fumbles.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com