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Jaguars have 1 game remaining before changes ensue

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Jaguars have 1 game remaining before changes ensue

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars have one week of stability remaining.

Changes are coming. The players know it. The coaches know it. Everyone inside the building is waiting for the inevitable moves that could make last season's roster turnover seem like a minor tweak.

In a league in which winning is all that matters, the Jaguars (2-13) realize they haven't done enough to prevent massive upheaval under new owner Shad Khan.

So as players prepare for Sunday's season finale at Tennessee (5-10), they also are bracing for what lies ahead.

``When a new owner comes in and you don't have the record you want to, I'm pretty sure he wants to win right away,'' defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said Wednesday. ``Being 2-13 right now, you'll see the ramifications of that in the offseason. He might give everybody another year. You never know. It's really an audition for everybody, even the coaches.''

Khan has been mum in recent weeks about his pending decisions. He said last month he didn't want to make any ``knee-jerk reactions,'' but that was before the season became the worst in franchise history.

Jacksonville has lost 11 of its past 12 games, including four in a row, and ranks 31st in the league in offense and defense. The team's last win came against the Titans on Nov. 25.

``Anytime you have a season like this, you know that changes could easily happen,'' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. ``But I hate to think about it now. It clouds your mind to think about it now. But as soon as we're done playing Sunday, that's the last time that this group of guys is going to play together as a team and there could be changes in the future. ... When you play like we did, that's the reality of it.''

General manager Gene Smith, the architect of Jacksonville's roster the past four years, could be the primary scapegoat for the franchise's fourth losing season in the past five years.

And since Smith targeted coach Mike Mularkey during the search to replace Jack Del Rio, outsiders believe the head coach could be one-and-done at his second head-coaching stint.

Mularkey's Buffalo Bills lost six of their final seven games in 2005, so the coach is 3-19 in his past 22 games. A far from impressive resume. And the reality is the Jaguars were slightly better last season with Del Rio and his lame-duck staff, a rookie quarterback and about the same number of injuries.

One thing that could prompt Khan to give Mularkey another year is the team's effort down the stretch. The Jaguars have been competitive in seven of their past nine games, including the past three when five other teams around the league have dropped games by more than 30 points.

``That sounds good, but it's all about winning,'' Knighton said. ``You can play hard, you can go out there and give it your all, but if you're not winning, that's the bottom line. It's about production in this league, and production is judged by how much you win, and obviously we're not doing that. Nobody knows what's going to happen right now.''

Knighton is one of about two dozen potential free agents who know that changes in the front office and on the coaching staff lessen the likelihood they'll remain in Jacksonville.

Center Brad Meester, cornerback Rashean Mathis, linebacker Daryl Smith, fullback Greg Jones, guard Eben Britton, cornerback Derek Cox and running back Rashad Jennings also could be playing their final game for the Jaguars. They are all veterans who were starters at some point this season.

So all of them could be auditioning for future jobs around the league. Either way, they have one week left before the potential chaos begins.

``It's a hard thing just mentally,'' Mularkey said. ``These guys have responded. I am not proud about the losses. Like I told them this morning, the one thing this has shown is we're closer than most think.''

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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