The Jaguars may have acquired Tommy Hendricks at just the right time.
Through the first five days of training camp, Hendricks has been quick, active and aggressive. He has put himself into position to compete for a starting job. And he's done all of this while battling a rather severe case of leg cramps.
"I can't let cramps take me out of my game," Hendricks said as he walked off the field following this morning's practice.
It was a typically hot morning, and it was typically a practice dominated by the defense. There is no denying that the defense has been a clear winner through practices to date, and Hendricks has been one of the defense's most impressive players.
"I have high expectations. I came here to win a starting position," Hendricks said.
The party line when the Jaguars made Hendricks their second signing of the free agency period was that Hendricks is a special teams star who will also upgrade the Jaguars linebacking corps. Personnel director Shack Harris hasn't wavered from that position, but you don't have to be on the inside to see that Hendricks could give the Jaguars more than what they expected.
"We feel it's all in front of him," Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said, referring to the best years of Hendricks' career.
In the fifth year of a career that began with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent, Hendricks appears to have made the transition from a 217-pound college strong safety to a 235-pound run-and-hit strongside linebacker. Hendricks is currently alternating with Greg Favors at the number one strongside linebacker position.
"They saw something in him and moved him to linebacker," Smith said of the Dolphins, who are to be credited with having identified Hendricks' skills.
"Tommy's got some versatility and that's going to be very good for us through the season because he can play all three positions. He's the only guy right now getting work at all three linebacker positions," Smith added.
Hendricks' versatility might threaten his goal to make one position his home, but Smith said that if Hendricks finishes the preseason as one of the Jaguars' best three linebackers, "he'll be a starter." So far, Hendricks is clearly in the competition for a starting spot.
"The biggest thing for me right now is to get my run fits down," he said, referring to his specific assignments in run-defense. "I expected competition. They're not going to give anything to anybody."
Competition came in the form of Favors, who the Jaguars signed a little later in free agency, and in Daryl Smith, who the Jaguars selected in the second round of the draft. Those three players would seem to be the top competitors for the third linebacker spot. Mike Peterson at middle linebacker and Akin Ayodele at weakside linebacker are returning starters.
"I want to be a long-term starter in the NFL. It's been a long, uphill fight. I was upset when it happened," he said of not having been drafted.
"Hendricks is an excellent special teams guy. He's tough. He made 17 tackles in the Tennessee game. We saw him as a guy who could upgrade the linebacking corps," Harris said.
That would seem to be an understatement.