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The highest of expectations

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As Eugene Monroe sees it, he never has had a better NFL training camp.

Then again, as the Jaguars' starting left offensive tackle is quick to note, it's supposed to be his best NFL training camp – and more importantly, his best NFL season. That, Monroe said, is what pretty much everyone who thinks of such things expects from him. Which Monroe said is fine.

Because it's absolutely what he expects from himself.

"It's probably the best camp I've had here," Monroe said during Jaguars 2011 Training Camp, which continued Tuesday with one practice.

 "I came in in great shape, and I've been in the system for a few years now, and I understand what they're trying to get accomplished with the offense."

There are plenty of reasons for the expectations around Monroe.

Not only was he the No. 8 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, he was the franchise left tackle around whom the Jaguars chose to begin building their offensive line when the team began rebuilding. He was the first first-round selection of the Gene Smith era, and if he wasn't the cornerstone of the process, he was a major part of the plan.

Now, it's Year Three, and Monroe said that's another reason for the expectations.

He said it's time to stop talking about potential, time to be a reason the Jaguars are successful rather than a reason they will be successful.

"That's the kind of mindset he has to have," Jaguars offensive line coach Andy Heck said. "He's not a rookie anymore. He knows the offense. He knows the coaching.

"I think he has come in (this season) with a mindset to work to have the kind of season he wants to have and to take the next step he needs to take as a player. As many gifts as he has, and as much ability as he has, the thing he has to strive for every day is to not let down and never let his guard down, to keep on edge. That's going to help him become that dominant player he wants to be.

"We've seen glimpses of it, but he can always be better."

Monroe agreed.

"I visualize having a dominant year," he said. "I think if any player doesn't do that, what are you playing for? It has to be the year that happens. That step has to be taken. If I want this team to be successful, we all need to improve our game, but I take things personally.

"For us to improve, it's going to take me to play as a dominant player consistently."

With that as the goal, Monroe said he worked as hard during the lockout-marred off-season as he ever has in his career. He said he is in the best shape of his career, and he is lighter than he ever has been, playing around 295 pounds.

"It wasn't a goal," Monroe said. "It was just the outcome of the type of training I was doing. . . . The way I look at it is I'm lighter in weight, but I'm carrying more muscle mass. I don't have that excess bad weight. You can move better and your conditioning is better. You're more athletic because you can move better. It has been helping out all around."

Said Heck, "Eugene arrived in camp in excellent physical condition. He obviously has been training hard."

Monroe said he switched his lifting program during the off-season emphasizing cardiovascular work and focusing on building muscle mass and reducing body fat. He also said he incorporated some mixed martial arts-type work into his off-season training.

The idea wasn't necessarily to get lighter, but Monroe said he is pleased and optimistic about the results.

"We mixed in a lot of different workouts," he said. "This is just the outcome of that. You can't pinpoint one area. If you want to be a great player, you have to focus on everything. Your training has to accommodate that. If you have to train more than some other people, that's what you have to do.

"I believe that's what I did. It's very visible."

While most starting NFL left tackles play at a heavier weight than 295 – he's the only starter in the AFC South under 305 – Jaguars offensive tackle Andy Heck said so far he's fine with the lighter version of the Jaguars' first-round left tackle.

"There's a point where you can become too light, but I think he looks good – as long as he holds up strengthwise, and I think he's doing that," Heck said.

Monroe said so far the advantages of his conditioning have outweighed any other factors, and he said as camp progresses, he's thinking not of conditioning or his off-season, but the task ahead of him. And if that task involves living up to people's expectations that he have the best season of his career, he said that's OK.

Because it's absolutely what he expects of himself.

"I've been able to play much faster and I've been able to slow the game down, not think too much, and play hard," he said. "I definitely feel I've progressed, but I'm not at the height of my game. Hopefully, I will continue to improve and become a dominant player and that's the goal every day.

"You have to be ready. I don't think anybody is in this league because they're itching to be a dominant player in the future. You have to be that now."

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