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Competition keen at LB


Akin Ayodele can't be sure what his role will be on this year's Jaguars defense, but he's absolutely certain the team's starting trio of linebackers will be represented by its best-three players.

"The three-best players are going to play. Del Rio has made it challenging. Each position is up for grabs. It makes you play better," Ayodele said following this morning's passing camp workout.

Head coach Jack Del Rio has made it this summer's mantra: Starting jobs are open to competition. And Ayodele has bought in.

"Where do I want to play? I just want to play," he said, then confessed, "If I had my preference, it probably would be at Will (weakside linebacker)."

Ayodele began his pro career in 2002 as a starting strongside linebacker and appeared to make major strides toward establishing himself at that position. Last year, under Del Rio and the Jaguars' new coaching regime, Ayodele was used at both the strongside and weakside positions until settling in at Will in the second half of the season.

Since then, the Jaguars have signed free-agent linebackers Greg Favors and Tommy Hendricks, who are Sam types, and drafted Daryl Smith in the second round. Smith was a star middle linebacker in college but has been used at Will and Sam in spring drills with the Jaguars.

So how is all of this going to shake out?

"We're looking for the best combination at linebacker. We'll let guys learn a bunch of roles and let the best-three guys play. That'll be real fun to watch this summer," Del Rio told reporters.

Ayodele has been working mostly at Will this spring, but he knows a move back to Sam is possible and, of course, he's ticketed for some third-down, hand-on-the-ground pass-rush time, too.

"That's what I did best in college," Ayodele said of rushing the passer, which he did as a defensive end at Purdue. "My game has changed over the past couple of years; developing into a true linebacker."

In that capacity, Ayodele's reputation could take a major step forward with a big year this season. He'll have the chance to prove his versatility, and nothing beats sacks, especially in a contract year. This is the final year of Ayodele's three-year rookie contract. He will be a restricted free agent next March.

"I would probably say a guy on the rise," Ayodele said when asked to categorize himself. "I'm slowly developing confidence in my game. It's not where it should be but it's definitely on the rise."

Ayodele led the Jaguars in solo tackles last season. He had a sack, two interceptions, two passes-defensed, three tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and a team-leading three fumble recoveries. Those are attractive numbers and should Ayodele take another step forward this season, he would probably establish himself as a fixture on what is becoming one of the league's best young linebacking corps.

"They know I'm going to play the best people. Guys who come in and play well are going to play for us. We're going to find the right combination," Del Rio said.

In other news from today, cornerback Juran Bolden did not participate in practice due to a sore back. Rashean Mathis moved from right cornerback to take Bolden's place and Dewayne Washington stepped in at right cornerback.

The Jaguars played golf in a team tournament Monday and Del Rio proclaimed the event a success in the team-morale category.

"We're building chemistry and that's important. We feel like we're on the right track," he said.

This morning's practice concluded with a two-minute drill that culminated in a field goal by fifth-round pick Josh Scobee.

"We ended the two-minute drill with a pressure kick and we made that. The kicking competition is going to be intense," Del Rio said.

Competition would seem to be the order of the year.

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