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At the top of his game


(Aug. 23)—It's his job now.

After years of hanging on, battling for another one-year contract, a roster spot and enough playing time to do it all again, Paul Spicer is "The Man" at left defensive end. That fact was made abundantly clear Sunday when the Jaguars cut Tony Brackens.How will Spicer react to the challenge? Is he worthy of the job?The answers are unknown, but what we do know is that Spicer won't fail for a lack of effort."I can't wait to get out there and be the starter," Spicer said as the Jaguars prepare to break training camp."There's no celebration. I've been everywhere. I've been in Europe, Canada. I came out of a small school when small ends weren't the thing. Never satisfied; when you get satisfied you get fat, dumb and happy," Spicer added, with spice.

His ascent to this position in Jacksonville took four seasons. Tom Coughlin fell in love with Spicer in 2000, when Spicer was signed as roster filler when the team was desperate at defensive end, and was forced into action a few days later in Dallas. Coughlin marveled at the gritty performance Spicer turned in that day.He got four starts in each of the 2001 and '02 seasons, and it was becoming very clear that Spicer was a quality backup end. Then, last season, he proved as much and more to Jack Del Rio.Now, in '04, Spicer's time has arrived. The 250-pound undrafted kid from Saginaw Valley State, who fought his way through Seattle and Saskatchewan, Detroit and Frankfurt, is now one of just 64 men who may refer to themselves as NFL starting defensive ends.

His attitude, however, is as it always has been. He's still fighting for a job."You know you have to do something and go beyond. You make mistakes and they're going to get rid of you. If I don't make some plays, they're going to let me go. They don't have any money in me," Spicer said of his mindset.It is the opposite of the player he's replacing. Brackens was always the great talent; the player the Jaguars could never do without. The Jaguars had money in Brackens; lots of money."We think he's capable of being what we talked about since early in the spring, when we said he'd be our left defensive end. We think he'll affect the quarterback some. We saw that on the first play against Tampa," Del Rio said of Spicer following this morning's special teams-only practice.Spicer is perfect for the team-first attitude Del Rio wants to establish. Spicer is a coach's dream, if he's physically capable of manning the position. Del Rio believes Spicer is capable."Is he instantly going to be a sack-master? No," Del Rio said.

But is he instantly going to be a "tough, dependable, hard-working, blue-collar" ingredient to the Jaguars' defensive success? Yes.They are the adjectives Del Rio uses to describe Spicer. "The doctor would have to say, 'You are out, period,'" Del Rio said of Spicer missing a game due to injury.He plays hurt; he plays hard. The sprained foot that kept him from playing in the preseason opener against Miami would've also kept most players out of last Friday's game against Tampa. Spicer not only played, he starred."If you know you can play, it's heart, courage. You want to make it," Spicer said in his staccato voice.Ask him a question about desire, and he'll fill your notebook."It's guys who want it," he said.

Now we'll find out if wanting it is good enough.

Del Rio gave reporters a little camp-ender this morning, though camp still has two practices to go before it ends tomorrow morning.

"It's been a very productive training camp," he said. "I think guys have bought into the team-first mentality. We created real competition and opportunity. I feel good that we're building something more than individuals. We're building a team."

The Jaguars worked out two running backs – Robert Gillespie and Frank Moreau – this morning. The running back corps has been depleted by injuries and Del Rio explained that re-enforcements are needed to help with practice reps.

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