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Smith in re-birth phase


He could've shut it down. A player of Jimmy Smith's esteem could begin turning his attention to life after football. It would be only natural for a 35-year-old man to do that, right?

But that's not what he's doing. In fact, he's doing just the opposite. At a time when most players are winding down, Smith has dedicated himself to turning the clock back.

Why? Well, maybe the reasons aren't so difficult to understand.

His is a career that was sidetracked for its first three-and-a-half years. Everyone knows the story of Smith's hard-luck start in the NFL, his time out of the game and his resurrection in Jacksonville. Hard times taught Smith to appreciate the career he re-claimed.

Then, last summer, hard times returned. Smith served a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's drug policy, and he wrestled with the embarrassment of it all.

Now, heading into what will be his 11th NFL season, Smith has the motivation of a player who wants to erase the stigma of last year's fall. He wants to end his career in Jacksonville on the high note he lost last summer. He wants to win back the fans he might have also lost.

"I want to have an outstanding career and end it here in Jacksonville," he said following this morning's practice at the Jaguars' Alltel Stadium practice facility.

The temperature reading on the back of the stadium scoreboard claimed to be 93 degrees. Oh, yeah, summer in north Florida is right around the corner, and it's going to get a lot hotter.

Last spring, Smith labored in the heat. He was overweight and out of shape. Smith had lost a step, too, and after the suspension and a 54-catch 12-game season, there were concerns Smith's glory years were gone forever. Let's just say the Jaguars felt compelled to draft a wide receiver in the first round and, again, in the fourth round.

How would Smith respond? Shut it down? No way.

He's lighter and faster than he's been since his glory days. He's recovered the step he lost last spring and Smith is, again, the quickest, fastest, smoothest-looking receiver on the Jaguars roster.

"My goal is to make the playoffs. I think that's realistic. Individually, make the Pro Bowl," Smith said.

He's goal-driven, again, even to the point of mentioning his old buddy Keenan McCardell as a statistical threat. "Keenan is trying to play longer than me," Smith said.

All of this qualifies as the possible re-birth of a career and a man. Smith is driven to make this a season that erases 2003, but it would've been so easy to just shut it down; take the money and run.

"That's not rewarding," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about the accomplishments. It's an honor to work on these practice fields and put on this Jaguars uniform."

That attitude has not been lost on Smith's coach, Jack Del Rio. "I have a lot of respect for people who play the game for the right reasons. He's not driven by the money. He's driven to be one of the best who's ever played the game, and those are the guys you want to have on your team," Del Rio said.

Smith is the best wide receiver in Jaguars history and he wants to protect that image by restoring his good name in the hearts of Jaguars fans. They were hearts that were broken last summer, but hearts can be mended.

"I know what it's like to be out of football. I want to stay in it as long as I can," Smith said. "I used to hate one-on-one drills. Now I look forward to them; especially for me at this stage of my career, in the twilight of my career."

Clearly, he's trying to turn the clock back, and reclaim at least one lost season.

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