Starks waits for opportunity

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Somewhere in the pre-draft hype that tagged cornerback Darrelle Revis as a player the Jaguars wanted to draft, and the belief that first-round pick Reggie Nelson can play "nickel back" as well as safety, Scott Starks got lost and he doesn't know why.

Starks moved into the "nickel back" role for a seven-game stretch last season and it appeared as though he was making it his job for a long time. Early in that seven-game stretch, Starks had the game of his life against Tennessee, playing in a career-high 46 plays, making seven tackles, forcing a fumble and returning an interception for a touchdown.

He remained in the "nickel back" job until the final two games of the season, when veteran Terry Cousin returned from his hamstring injury and reclaimed the job.

"It's a business with competition. There's always going to be someone going for the same spot. That's what the whole game is about," Starks said following a soggy practice Wednesday morning.

Starks came to the Jaguars in the third round of the 2005 draft, following a four-year career as a starter at Wisconsin. He was a little guy who played big, it was said. After all, he played in the Big Ten, where cornerbacks have to support against the run as well as they defend against the pass.

Size prejudice, however, is a difficult thing to overcome. As big as he plays, perception is that a 5-9, 178-pound defensive back will have trouble holding up in an every-downs role. Starks, it would seem, has been relegated to a "nickel back" and special teams role.

"Every person should see themselves as a starter. I know I do," he said. "I just want to be an asset, not a liability. I want to be counted on. I know that has to be earned and that's what I'm working on now."

Starks is facing a major challenge to carve out a niche in the Jaguars defensive backfield. Nelson appears to be targeted for the "nickel" job. He has rare speed and athletic ability and the belief is Nelson will develop into the Jaguars' third-best coverage man.

Then there's Cousin and third-year cornerback Chris Roberson, who was a big hit in training camp last summer until a shoulder injury in the preseason put him on injured reserve.

"I think Scott has progressed very well," Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said. "We're anticipating he'll be in the competition for a number of spots. He's very versatile. I think he's a guy who goes out, works hard and gets better. He has a much better understanding of our defense.

"He played well (last season). We played good defense through that stretch when he was in there. It's an open competition at the nickel position and Scott is going to compete hard to win the job," Smith added.

"I guess it's the body type," Starks says of not being more highly regarded. "They're going to say what they say. A lot of times the critics are wrong."

"He plays bigger than he is," Smith said. "He's short but he's strong. Any time short guys get matched up against tall receivers they have to play with excellent technique and he does that very well. He's been five-foot whatever he is for a long time."

Ironically, Starks has had some of his best moments on the practice field against Matt Jones, the tallest receiver in the league. He needs to have the same kind of success in games.

"You can't just sit and talk about it. That never got anything done. I want to get on the field," Starks said.

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