Defensive end Tony Brackens remains sidelined by the effects of knee surgery, which is giving Paul Spicer an opportunity to prove his NFL worthiness.
"The doctor thought August all along," coach Tom Coughlin said of Brackens' prognosis following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last January. "He had some loose pieces in there and they went in and cleaned them out," Coughlin added.
Brackens missed both practices today -- he's missed five of the first six practices of this training camp -- as the Jaguars donned full pads this morning for the first time. Coughlin admitted Brackens' knee is beginning to become a subject of concern, but the coach was buoyed by a spirited practice that included the camp's first full-contact nine-on-seven drill.
"Spicer is a tough, tough, competitive guy. He'll find a way. Some guys are very persistent and that's what he is," Coughlin said of Brackens' backup.
Brackens and Spicer are football opposites. Brackens is a player loaded with talent who has been criticized for being an under-achiever; Spicer is the classic over-achiever. Brackens is the Jaguars' player of highest remaining bonus amortization ($13.825 million), which means Brackens is the team's greatest salary cap liability; Spicer is a minimum-wage player with a meager $450,000 hit on the Jags' salary cap.
"You approach it with a positive attitude," Spicer said of the comparison between himself and Brackens. "He's an excellent athlete and he gets paid a lot of money."
Spicer doesn't have Brackens' athletic ability, and he'll never earn Brackens' kind of money. But Spicer has a rare and priceless attitude.
"It's the attitude. You've got to have the right attitude," Spicer said of what's allowed him to carve out a respectable NFL career from the humble beginning of undrafted free agency. Four teams and two leagues later, Spicer is one season away from unrestricted free agency. If this should become the best season of Spicer's life, next spring is likely to produce something other than a one-year contract.
"I may not be as blessed as him, but in your mind you must feel like you're the best player. I'm better than you; you gotta have that. But you've got to back it up," Spicer said in describing his approach to football.
The right attitude allowed Spicer to cling to a roster spot in the second half of the 2000 season. Then, last year, he was a starter in the first four games of the season, as Brackens recovered from a knee injury he suffered in the preseason finale.
"I don't play the game for money. I love football. I'd play for free. I'm a football player. I love to compete," he said.
Ask Spicer a question about football and he'll respond in full. He is never lost for words or energy in talking about his game, his profession.
"I love playing for coach Coughlin. I love playing for this team. the way he coaches doesn't bother me a bit. He's hard. We need it. That's the way I like it," Spicer said.
Coughlin is appreciative of Spicer's attitude, which embodies the kind of toughness and dedication the coach seeks in a day and age considerably removed from the coach's ideals. Very simply, Spicer is the kind of old-fashioned player every coach wants.
"There was nothing that was going to stop me from going out to practice," Spicer said of last season, when he fought his way through an assortment of nine different injuries, three of which were painful elbow, toe and foot conditions that might've sidelined a lesser man.
"When you see me not playing or practicing, you'll know I'm seriously hurt. To see me not out there, you can bet the bone is shattered," Spicer said.