The ring is his drive

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Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Terry Cousin sits at his locker in Alltel Stadium last week following practice when he is asked about his favorite memories of his playing career. He smiles and pauses to collect his thoughts. It takes time to remember all the highlights when you have played with six different teams in nine NFL seasons.

Cousin recalls that he lined up against wide receiver Michael Irvin during the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl run as a member of the Chicago Bears. He faced off with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre in his prime at the Frozen Tundra at Lambeau Field. He matched wits against Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino during the late stage of his career. He has played in six postseason games, the most by any current Jaguar. Most importantly, he was one play away from a chance to win a Super Bowl.

These are the moments that Cousin will not forget when his career ends, but the chance to earn a Super Bowl ring is what drives him now. He signed with the Jaguars last year and earned the starting role in nickel situations. The Jaguars made their first playoff appearance since 1999, but lost in the opening round to New England.

"All of that keeps driving me," Cousin said. "It keeps me going every day."

Cousin, a native of Miami, has started 62 of 130 games in his nine seasons. He has played with Chicago (1997-99), Atlanta (2000), Miami (2001), Carolina (2002-03) and the New York Giants. Cousin played under Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio in Carolina in 2002. Following a season with the Giants, Cousin was excited about joining his former defensive coordinator.

"Jack (Del Rio) gives you the license to steal and make plays," Cousin said. "He doesn't want guys that are robots out there. He wants guys to play. He's been a player. If you see something, you see it. There are things out there that coaches can't coach. It's up to the players to make plays."

Cousin made his share of plays in 2005 as he recorded a career-high four interceptions despite starting only five games. He entered the 2005 season with only six career interceptions, but he has a simple reason for the production last year.

"Catching the ball," Cousin said. "I have had so many opportunities to catch them. There were opportunities where I could have had eight or nine last year. I ended up dropping them or someone tried to catch it with me. Every time you have a pass breakup you have an opportunity to catch the ball. If you connect with the ball then those numbers turn quickly."

Cousin thrives on his role as the Jaguars nickel back. He usually enters the game during crucial third down situations where opponents are expected to throw the ball.

"I love starting, but there's a certain competition that goes with being a nickel back," Cousin said. "It's a situation where's it's a must. You have to help your defense get off the field. It's a lot of pressure, but you enjoy it. That is what competition is all about. You might be facing a number one receiver in the slot and it's your opportunity to go out and make plays."

The Jaguars concluded the halfway point of their offseason workouts last week with training camp set to open in late July. The workouts can become monotonous for veterans like Cousin as the rookies get acquainted to the NFL and the playbook. Cousin doesn't complain, instead, he uses the practices to work on the small details of playing defensive back.

"It's hard to do different things against our offense because we work against them every day," Cousin said. "There are little things you need to work on, my footwork and my eyes. Sometimes when you get out there and are a little lackadaisical, your eyes are moving. I see how much better I can get from year to year. You can never know all of it. There is never a time you can't learn."

The memory of the Super Bowl XXXVIII loss to New England as a member of the Carolina Panthers still haunts Cousin. The Panthers tied the score, 29-29, with 1:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. After an errant kickoff, the Patriots started their drive at their own 40-yard line. Five plays later, the Patriots were faced with a third-and-three from the Panthers 40-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. Quarterback Tom Brady hooked up with Deon Branch for a 17-yard pass that set up a game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri.

Cousin still discusses the situation with former Panthers and current Jaguars teammate Deon Grant. It remains a sore subject with both of them.

"Methodically, in a couple of plays, they got the opportunity to kick a field goal and beat us," Cousin said. "It took me every bit of six or seven months to even watch it. I finally had a chance to watch it and you learn from it. Those things really sting. I know it keeps Deon and me going."

While it wasn't the Super Bowl, Cousin had a similar feeling last year when the Jaguars lost to New England in the AFC Wild Card Game. The teams battled hard in the first half with the Patriots taking a 7-3 lead at halftime. Momentum began to swing in the third quarter due to a few mistakes by the Jaguars that led to Patriots' touchdowns.

"It was incredible how focused we were in the first half of that game," Cousin said. "One play was the difference. We don't come back from one play and it kind of beat on us."

Cousin sees similarities between his Panthers team and his current one.

"Two great teams that have a lot of guys without egos," Cousin said. "There are a lot of great guys on this team without egos. Everybody is going to get the opportunity to play."

The Jaguars defense enters the season with only two starters missing from the 2005 team, cornerback Kenny Wright and linebacker Akin Ayodele. Unrestricted free agent Brian Williams is expected to man the right cornerback position while competition will be fierce in training camp for the opening at linebacker.

"We can make a great run at what we want," Cousin said. "Guys can see it. Last year at the beginning of the season, they were thinking we are kind of good. Then as it got toward the end of the season, those guys were thinking we can really do something this year. Now, guys know we can win. They know what's out there. They know what's expected of them and that's a good thing."

The main focus of the club's off-season workouts has been on the young receiving corps. With Jimmy Smith retired, first-round draft picks Matt Jones and Reggie Williams along with third-year player Ernest Wilford will be relied upon to be playmakers. Cousin thinks the chance to work solely with quarterback Byron Leftwich in the off-season will expedite their improvement.

"They are going to be good the more and more they play together," Cousin said. "It's not the lack of talent or what they aren't. It's playing together. Being out there with Byron and just getting to know each other. Sometimes you have to overcome a play call. You have to be a football player and the athlete you are to make plays."

Cousin doesn't set a timetable of when a number one receiver will emerge, but he knows it will happen.

"Whoever steps in and takes it," Cousin said. "That is how it is. Those guys have so much ability. They are built almost the same, but they are different. That's the key. You also have a plethora of tight ends. Jimmy (Smith) is an outstanding guy and it's time for these guys to step up and step in. I like the way they are looking. They are catching balls, not a lot of drops. That is what Jack (Del Rio) talked about last year. We just have to catch the ones we need to catch. You don't have to be spectacular. Everything should be fine."

Cousin is entering his 10th season in the NFL and he doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.

"I prayed for 15 years when I came into the league," said Cousin, who was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Chicago in 1997. "You have to take care of your body, and you have that Florida sun. It's just a great atmosphere here. I have been blessed to not have any injuries. If I can get 15 years in, I think those opportunities to get a couple of championships for the city of Jacksonville would be very nice. I want to end it here."

Until then, Cousin will continue to take the practice field each day at Alltel Stadium with hopes of getting back to the big game and winning it this time.

"Every day you have to train yourself to be great, not average," Cousin said. "This is when you start to separate yourself from the other guys. I want to be great consistently, not just some of the time."

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