Safeties on display Saturday

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This is the game Jamaal Fudge used to make the roster last season, when he was an undrafted safety from Clemson, a local kid who signed a contract on the strength of a tryout camp workout, and he stole the show with nine unassisted tackles in the Jaguars' win in Miami in last summer's preseason-opener.

Fudge's story is a Jacksonville version of Vince Papale's "Invincible," and just as Papale had to re-prove himself every year, so does Fudge. It starts, again, in Miami this Saturday.

"Same situation. I just have to fight for a roster spot," Fudge said following Thursday morning's special teams practice.

Fudge is attempting to win a spot on the Jaguars' roster by proving he can provide dependable depth at safety. It's a major issue for a team that is also confronted with establishing two new starters at the safety positions.

"Playing fast and making as few mistakes as possible," Fudge said when asked what he has to do to make the team. "My play will speak for itself."

Hitting everything that moves would help his cause. That's what shot his stock up in last year's preseason-opener. On that first night in Miami, Fudge hit everything that moved.

"It's a business. Know that next year they'll bring in a higher draft pick," Fudge said of the reality of being a bottom-half-of-the-roster player.

For Fudge and rookies Josh Gattis and Chad Nkang, the preseason might as well be the playoffs. This is their postseason. It's that important.

"The most important thing is how they perform in the preseason games. That's going to be the determining factor in how we put our safeties together on the 53-man roster," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said.

"We like how Jamaal has progressed. He was a free agent last year and made our team. He's made plays and been impressive," Smith added.

Gattis is a fifth-round pick the Jaguars drafted with the future in mind. The team is in the process of rebuilding a position that is without either of last year's starters, Deon Grant and Donovin Darius. The Jaguars plugged 2005 fifth-round pick Gerald Sensabaugh into Darius' strong safety position and this year's first-round pick, Reggie Nelson, into Grant's free safety job, and now the team needs to uncover depth.

"Playing strong safety, I'm up near the box and there are bigger linemen down there," Gattis said.

Gattis made a nice impression in spring drills. He's got the size and speed you want at strong safety, and he impressed the coaches with his athleticism, ball skills, intelligence and instincts. Since the pads went on in training camp, however, he hasn't been as prominent. He needs to assert himself this Saturday.

"Josh has learned the system and has flashed at times," Smith said.

"Chad has been a surprise because it's a position switch we made at the start of training camp. He's flashed and he doesn't look out of place back there at safety," Smith added of Nkang, who moved from linebacker to strong safety.

"It gives us a chance to know where we are right now; show what we can do," Nkang, a seventh-round pick, said of the preseason.

"For a number of players, this is the first real, true evaluation. We're going to see them playing real football, and you know how important first impressions are. They have to have a strong showing on special teams as well," Smith said.

"Gerald has looked really, really good," head coach Jack Del Rio said, referring to Sensabaugh. "Reggie (Nelson) has shown athleticism. For the backup roles, we're trying to sort through that."

The sorting process begins this weekend.

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