Rookie gets bulk of snaps

Even as rookie coach Jack Del Rio remained noncommittal, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell remained on the sideline during Wednesday's practice, and that likely means first-round draft choice Byron Leftwich will remain the starter for Sunday's home game against the San Diego Chargers.

If that is the case, it will be the strongest indication to date that Jaguars management has decided to stick with Leftwich for the balance of the season, and to essentially close the book on the Brunell era with the franchise.

Leftwich took the bulk of the snaps in the Wednesday session, with second-year veteran David Garrard getting the balance of the work, and Brunell reduced to just throwing on the sideline. The team used an injury to Brunell's left (throwing) elbow last week as the handy excuse for awarding Leftwich, the seventh overall player chosen in the '03 draft, his first regular-season start.

But with Brunell recovered from a gash that required five stitches to his elbow, and still getting no work in practice, the handwriting may be on the wall for the 10-year veteran.

Del Rio said he will revisit the quarterback situation on Thursday, but sources close to Leftwich said Wednesday afternoon the former Marshall star expects to start. As noted last week, Brunell had been apprised a few weeks ago that there was sentiment within the organization to nudge Leftwich into the lineup.

If the switch to Leftwich is permanent, it will end a stretch in which Brunell was one of the league's most effective quarterbacks, and in which he started 10 games or more in all eight previous seasons. Brunell, 33, twice led the Jaguars to the AFC championship game in those eight years. He was acquired from Green Bay in a 1995 trade.

In his start against the Houston Texans last week, Leftwich completed 17 of 36 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown. But he threw three interceptions and also lost a fumble late in the contest. Still, he had the winless Jaguars ahead until the Texans scored on a last-second, one-yard dive by quarterback David Carr.

While he allowed that Leftwich had some uneven spots in the game, Del Rio lauded the overall performance of the rookie.

Not even the likely presence of Leftwich in the lineup is likely to keep the Sunday game against the Chargers from being blacked out locally. The Jaguars have struggled to sell tickets and the suspicion is that owner Wayne Weaver has pushed for Leftwich to start in an effort to retain fan interest in his club.

The Jaguars welcomed back wide receiver Jimmy Smith to practice, his first workout with the rest of the squad since returning Monday from a four-week league suspension, for a repeat violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Jacksonville was granted a one-week roster exemption for Smith, and it is not yet known if he will be activated for Sunday's contest.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.