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Mathis gives Jags speed


Jack Del Rio wanted to add speed to his defense and, with the selection of Rashean Mathis in the second round, Del Rio added a player who instantly became the fastest player in the Jaguars defensive backfield. He ran a sub-4.4 40 for the Jaguars.

Mathis, 6-0, 202, and a Jacksonville native who made 31 career interceptions at Bethune-Cookman, was an easy choice for the Jaguars, who had Mathis at the top of their value board. The Jaguars made the pick within seconds of going on the clock.

Was he the best available player on the Jaguars' draft board?

"No question," Del Rio said.

"We had him targeted as a guy, going into the draft, we wanted to take with this pick," personnel director James "Shack" Harris said. "We thought this guy at this particular spot was the best value for us."

Mathis intercepted 14 passes as a free safety last season. He moved from cornerback to free safety in his sophomore season, after intercepting two passes and knocking away nine as a cornerback in his freshman season.

"He's a play-maker," Harris said of Mathis. "The ball seems to find him. He has size and speed. He gives us the opportunity to try him at two positions in the secondary."

"When the phone rang and I knew it was (the Jaguars), it was a relief," said Mathis, a Jaguars fan whose family screamed with excitement when the Jags made Mathis their second-round pick.

Asked if he was aware the Jags were billing this season as a new era in Jaguars football, Mathis said: "I am aware of that and I'm glad … I was in a new era when I came into college."

Mathis was a major college recruit going into his senior season at Englewood High School. He committed to Florida State but after suffering a broken leg returning a kickoff, Florida State withdrew its scholarship offer.

His 31 career interceptions at Bethune-Cookman are a Division I-AA record. Del Rio said Mathis will probably be tried first at free safety with the Jaguars, because he's likely to be most comfortable at that position, but Del Rio didn't rule out the possibility of Mathis getting a look at cornerback.

Rumor has it starting cornerback Fernando Bryant has been the subject of trade talks with other teams. Bryant has only one year remaining on his contract and it's likely the team would lose Bryant in free agency next winter.

But the same circumstance would seem to exist at strong safety, where Donovin Darius is on a one-year contract as a "franchise" player. Darius may also escape in free agency next winter, and Mathis may be the player who would allow that to happen.

Harris neither confirmed nor denied the Bryant trade rumors. "We'll listen. We've been in discussions about several of our players," Harris said of trade talk.

"He's a guy with great range. He has the size and speed we covet. What role he ends up in will depend on how well he learns our system," Del Rio said of Mathis. "This is in no way a knock on our two corners. We talk about increasing the level of competition and we just elevated the level of competition at defensive back."

At Bethune-Cookman, Mathis was obviously put in a specially-designed role to take advantage of his ball skills. "They put him in position to make plays and he made them," Del Rio said.

And it's likely Del Rio will put Mathis in that same role.

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