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Tasty debut for Fudge


Jamaal Fudge turned off his cell phone before kickoff. When he turned it back on after the game, "the messages started pouring in," Fudge said.

This is the always-favorite "local kid makes good" story. Fudge signed a contract as an undrafted free agent following a tryout camp for longshot Jacksonville prospects, then came out of nowhere on Saturday night in Miami to lead the Jaguars in tackles and leap into the spotlight of roster consideration.

"I wanted to go out there and make a statement; try to make the team," Fudge said following Monday morning's practice. "Hustling to the ball, getting lined up; I didn't have any errors."

Fudge, a graduate of Jacksonville's Ed White High School, slipped through the draft without being selected, following a stellar career at Clemson. Following the draft, he starred in a local tryout camp, and now he's doing something almost no one thought was possible: He's contending to make the roster of his hometown Jaguars.

"Size had a thing to do with it," he said of his failure to be drafted. "Most teams are looking for that big, tall safety. The Jaguars got a steal in me. I just have to prove myself."

At 5-9, 196, Fudge was the "biggest" player on the field in Miami. He had eight tackles and a sack.

"He flashed and stood out. He's a physical safety," coach Jack Del Rio said. "He put himself in that category of we're going to watch him. He was knocking guys on their butts."

The Jaguars are a little thin at the safety position currently. Second-year man Gerald Sensabaugh is in the second week of recovery from a significant ankle sprain and he's not likely to play this Saturday against Carolina. Undrafted running back Montell Owens was even moved to safety last week, to help ease the repetitions on a group that includes veteran Donovin Darius, who is recovering from knee surgery.

"He has developed extremely quick," Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said of Fudge. "He can be a safety and a special teams player. He definitely got the attention of a lot of people. He was knocking people back when he was tackling the backs and tight ends."

Fudge is currently working at strong safety; he is that physical. Smith believes Fudge has the smarts and athletic ability to also play free safety.

And all of this is happening right here in his hometown, which is the best part of the story.

"I don't have to worry about being a stranger in a faraway place," Fudge said. "They're real proud," he added of his parents. "They have something to talk about."

This is what Fudge wants Jaguars fans to say about him: "He'll hit you if he gets the chance. He's someone who plays real hard," he said.

That would seem to be part one of the story.

Del Rio's evaluation of his team's performance in its 31-26 win in Miami didn't change over the weekend. "In all three phases, we showed positive signs and areas where we need to be better," he told reporters on Monday.

"We didn't start fast. That will remain an emphasis point," he added.

Rookie tight end Marcedes Lewis (ankle) will not play in Saturday's game against Carolina. Rookie linebacker Clint Ingram's calf contusion is a "few days kind of injury," Del Rio said. OL Mike Williams (back) returned to practice on Monday and TE Brian Jones (knee) remained sidelined.

In some personnel moves, punter Toby Gowin and wide receiver Kahlil Hill were cut and WR Felton Huggins and TE Greg Estandia were re-signed.

WR Matt Jones continues to "slide and glide" on his tender ankle and Reggie Williams moved into Jones' spot on the first team in team drills on Monday.

Del Rio singled out rookie tackle Richard Collier for "blocking his guy all day" on David Garrard's 62-yard touchdown pass to Chad Owens, and complimented the play of second-year cornerback Scott Starks.

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