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Mathis picks highlight morning

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Rashean Mathis said he isn't bothered by the notion that he had an off year last season, but there are clearly limits to his tolerance.

"I know what I did last year. I know I didn't hurt my team, but I could've helped a lot more," he said following Tuesday morning's veteran camp practice.

That's the manner in which Mathis has elected to characterize a season in which he made only one interception, after having totaled a team-record eight interceptions in 2006. Yes, it was an off year. The question would seem to be, how far off?

"Just having one interception last year, that was blown out of proportion," Mathis said.

He had two interceptions on Tuesday. It was, of course, just a meaningless spring practice, right? Or might there have been a message in Mathis' picks?

"It's getting better. You're either getting better or worse," Mathis said, careful not to lose perspective.

Here's the proper perspective: Mathis is the Jaguars' number one star on defense. He is their most talented player and the guy around whom their pass-defense is built. Any chance the Jaguars have of returning to their old ways on defense rest with him. In other words, he is being counted on to be more like he was in 2006, than the player he was in '07.

Mathis jumped a pass from David Garrard to Troy Williamson in Tuesday's practice. It was a simple out-route and Mathis saw it coming. Williamson and Mathis simultaneously got their hands on the ball, and then Mathis pulled it away and raced down the sideline with it. It was as though Ben Roethlisberger had thrown the ball.

Shortly after that play, Mathis made a second interception. This time he was in retreat when he maneuvered himself between quarterback Cleo Lemon and the receiver. Lemon's pass seemed to stick in the bend of Mathis' right arm.

Always, he had been an interceptions leader, going back to his days at Bethune Cookman. It was the reason for which he was drafted in the second round. Mathis is a ballhawk – a playmaker, in football vernacular – and when ballhawks stop making interceptions, people ask, why?

A leg strain Mathis suffered in the Pro Bowl in Feb. of 2007 may have had negative effects throughout last season. The Jaguars "babied" the injury and Mathis admits to having favored the strain, which caused strains in other places.

"I was favoring it a little. I can't let that happen. It was the first year I had ever gone through with injuries," he said.

He talked on Tuesday of a new attitude.

"Finish plays; being a little more hungry. Sometimes you get away from the little things. We're all athletes," Mathis said.

So what about those two interceptions? Are we seeing the return of the old Rashean, he was asked?

"The old Rashean?" he countered, struggling with perspective. "Yes, because I'm concentrating more on the little things," he allowed.

Meanwhile, cornerback Drayton Florence was absent from practice on Tuesday. Defensive end Reggie Hayward missed a second consecutive practice but coach Jack Del Rio said Hayward is expected to be back for Thursday's practice. Defensive end Paul Spicer remained a no-show.

Free-agent wide receiver D'Juan Woods made the highlight catch of the practice, a leaping, twisting reception over rookie cornerback Brian Witherspoon.

Wide receiver Jerry Porter was limited in his participation, a day after experiencing some foot soreness. "He wanted to go but it's not the time to push," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars' next practice is scheduled for Thursday.

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