Gerald Sensabaugh says he's ready to go, but he acknowledges that he'll be attempting to fill very big shoes.
"He was a ferocious hitter. It's unfortunate he has to go," Sensabaugh said of the release of long-time Jaguars strong safety Donovin Darius. The team announced on Thursday morning that it was releasing Darius.
Sensabaugh is the key player in the Jaguars' attempt to replace Darius, who had spent the spring attempting to recover from a broken leg he sustained late last season. Darius had been unable to participate in practices.
"I hope they do have that confidence in me," Sensabaugh said. "I have to make sure I can fill his shoes."
Sensabaugh was a fifth-round draft choice in 2005. He quickly used his athletic ability to impress coach Jack Del Rio, who believes Sensabaugh can provide a combination of run-support and pass-defense abilities.
The selections of safeties Reggie Nelson in the first round and Josh Gattis in the fifth round of this spring's draft made the release of Darius possible. The Jaguars now find themselves with a stockpile of young safeties. Nelson has already assumed the starting job at free safety, which was vacated by Deon Grant when he signed with Seattle in free agency.
"Reggie and Josh are going to be good players for us. We still have competition at the safety position," Sensabaugh said.
Asked if he believes he's ready to assume a starting job, Sensabaugh said: "I've felt I've been ready. I've always felt like I've been ready. It's time for me to show what I can do. I hope I can translate what I've done in OTA's to the season."
"He's been a real class guy off and on the field," coach Jack Del Rio said of Darius. "He's been a positive influence in our locker room. I told him this morning that I respect him as a player and as a person."
Jaguars College Scouting Director Gene Smith said he likes what he saw from his young safeties in spring practices.
"During OTA's, they've shown the ability to do the things (we) want our safeties to do," Smith said. "Donovin was a tempo-setter in the run game. When the pads go on, that's what will determine if we have that guy."
Thursday marked the Jaguars' final practice of the spring. The next time the team takes the practice field will be for the start of training camp on July 28.
"The area that's been most scrutinized is the passing game because it's lagged," Del Rio said in giving an overview of his team as it leaves spring drills behind. "I'm confident we'll be improved. We're going to throw it and catch it better this year."
Del Rio was emphatic about the state of his starting quarterback, despite the fact the Jaguars are interested in acquiring Daunte Culpepper. Del Rio reaffirmed his commitment to Byron Leftwich as the team's starter.
"Byron is our quarterback," Del Rio said. "We're not going down that road. I've been very clear that this is a supporting role," he added about the interest in Culpepper.
Leftwich spent the spring adapting his skills to new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's system, and Del Rio likes the fit.
"I think they suit Byron Leftwich very well," Del Rio said of the plays in Koetter's playbook. "I like what I'm seeing. I like the progress I'm seeing."
The competition at wide receiver is likely to be the feature attraction of training camp, and Del Rio did nothing on Thursday to downplay the hype. In fact, he stoked the embers.
"We're searching for someone to emerge. Coming out of OTA's, the guy who's put himself into position is Charles Sharon. Where a guy was drafted, how a guy was brought here; how they got here doesn't really matter. It's wide open (at wide receiver)," Del Rio said. "Everybody is going to have an opportunity. We need someone to stand up and take charge."
Rookie third-round draft choice Mike Walker finished OTA's with two strong performances this week. Might he emerge as the Jaguars' number one receiver?
"We're going to let the most productive guys play and emerge," Del Rio said. "I think we have the guys here and I think we're going to be able to find the guys we need to do what we want to do offensively."