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Opportunity time for Quinn; Boyd, McCree clouding Lake's future

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Friday is their night of opportunity.

Jonathan Quinn may play as much as three-quarters of the preseason opener against the visiting Carolina Panthers. It is a game that will go a long way toward deciding Quinn's quest to win the backup quarterback job to Mark Brunell, and it will provide valuable video tape other teams may use to evaluate Quinn as a prospect in unrestricted free agency next winter.

"It's a good opportunity to move the team. Hopefully, we'll put a lot of points on the board," Quinn said.

Jamie Martin, who remains second on the depth chart behind Brunell, is not expected to play against the Panthers, the result of a sprained right foot Martin suffered in last Friday's practices with the New Orleans Saints.

"I'm not going to take a chance on that," coach Tom Coughlin said when asked if he would play Martin this Friday.

Brunell will play in the first offensive series only, then Quinn will take over. The other available quarterback is fourth-teamer Ted White, who has not made a strong impression in training camp to date.

"Right now, the preseason games are everything. It's a testing ground. You prove you can do the job," Quinn said. "All you look for is a chance."

Clearly, this is it, for Quinn.

Then there are rookie players, such as safeties James Boyd and Marlon McCree, two players who've been especially impressive in this training camp, as veteran Carnell Lake remains out of action with a hamstring pull.

Lake did not participate in this morning's drills. Meanwhile, Boyd, the Jaguars' third-round draft choice from Penn State, turned in a stellar practice performance.

"I didn't know what to expect, but I'd be ready," he said when asked of his thoughts heading into training camp. "All I needed was a lot of repetitions."

Boyd has been impressive enough to make people believe he could earn the starting job this season. McCree is in a similar category, though he's making the move from college linebacker to pro safety.

Behind those two rookies is James Watkins, a 6-4, 210-pounder from Tennessee State, who was passed over in the draft and in undrafted free agency in 2000. Watkins was signed by the Jaguars last December and was allocated to NFL Europe. He has been impressive enough to be considered a roster contender.

Lake's future with the Jaguars must be considered cloudy at this point, the result of his injured status and the fact that he would represent a salary cap savings to the Jaguars. Of course, Boyd and McCree are also clouding Lake's future.

One of the great players in Pittsburgh Steelers history, Lake is on the books as a $2.83 million salary-cap hit this season. Of that amount, $2.33 million is bonus amortization that won't go away, but by releasing Lake the Jaguars would save Lake's $500,000 salary on this year's cap, and $2.2 million in not-likely-to-be-earned incentives that would have to be counted on the Jaguars' 2002 salary cap. Those incentives, which are designated not likely to be earned because Lake missed all of last season, would be easily achieved by Lake if he is the starter at free safety this season.

In short, by releasing Lake the Jaguars would save $500,000 in salary (minus the salary of Lake's roster replacement) on this year's cap, and potentially $2.2 million on next year's cap.

If Boyd's and McCree's developments continue to be rapid, Lake's future will further cloud. Boyd and McCree can strike major blows to Lake's Jacksonville future with impressive preseason performances, beginning this Friday night.

"We're going to push each other and make each other better," Boyd said of himself and McCree.

"I go out there to practice that way," Boyd said when asked if he believes he's competing for a starting job.

In other news from practice this morning:

• Zach Wiegert ran with the first team at right guard on a few occasions. Aaron Koch remains the starter at right guard, as Wiegert recovers from knee surgery.

• Tight end Damon Jones dropped two passes.

• Wide receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell (groin) did not practice and will not play against Carolina.

• The idea of punter David Leaverton handling kickoff chores has apparently been abandoned. The job belongs to Jim Tarle.

• Middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson turned in a top performance in this morning's practice. Nickerson has been impressive, forceful and durable throughout training camp.

• Cornerback Jason Craft knocked away a pass for wide receiver Alvis Whitted in the end zone, in a goal-line drill.

• Wide receiver Sean Dawkins caught a Brunell pass for a touchdown in "goal line."

• First-round draft pick Marcus Stroud practiced, but is not likely to play against Carolina. "If I do decide to play him, it will be a limited number of plays," Coughlin said.

• Wide receiver R. Jay Soward continued his impressive performance. "He's had a good camp. He's worked his tail off. He's in great shape," Coughlin said of the troubled 2000 first-round pick.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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