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Northcutt knows slot role will be best for him, and for Jags

8/13/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

JACKSONVILLE -- When the Jaguars signed Dennis Northcutt on March 5, 2007, they had a specific role in mind. He'd upgrade their punt return game and be a reliable slot receiver.

But for the second year in a row he's being asked to do far more as the receivers around him are unable to stay on the field.

Jerry Porter (hamstring) and Reggie Williams (knee) haven't practiced since camp opened and Matt Jones remains in the doghouse -- with Porter, Williams and Troy Williamson all out of the preseason opener, Jones still didn't start and Northcutt did.

There is a strong feeling that less could be more for Northcutt -- a feeling I share. But circumstances dictate that Northcutt continues to play an expanded role.

"He came in here last year and was so solid and steady... that he earned more than that," coach Jack Del Rio said. "We try not to put a ceiling on guys that we bring in and give them an opportunity and he just carved out more than that last year. We feel like the group is a little stronger. He's one of the guys [who's] been very steady, very dependable and we'll just utilize those guys the best we can, settle them into the roles as we get going...

"I think we're working through that he does some things outside pretty well, does some things inside pretty well, got a good understanding, savvy veteran knows how to get in and out of breaks, find the soft spots. He's done a good job for us."

After seven seasons with Cleveland, Northcutt played in 15 games last season as a Jaguar, starting 11. He finished with 44 catches for 601 yards, second on the team in both categories.

"You know, I was happy with Dennis lining up on the outside, I never had a problem with him," quarterback David Garrard said. "I had great confidence in him. Everybody wants him to be a slot guy but he's just as good on the outside, too. So I don't see why he's designated just for the slot. I think he's a great slot runner. He's good anywhere on the field. He's very smart... He always knows everything down to the minor details and I'm just happy whenever Dennis is on the field."

Northcutt said he's happy to fill whatever role he's given. He offered this somewhat rambling, somewhat telling answer to the idea that the team would be better off if he was more of a role player.

"I'm a football guy and I'm a competitor. Of course I want more, I want to be a starter. But at the same time, I don't want to be a starter here to jeopardize what we have here as a team. I'm also a team player. I'm also an unselfish player. I understand what we have here, I understand what we brought other guys in here to do and to help us with. I understand what they brought me in here to help us do.

"The only thing I can do is control Dennis Northcutt. Will I be mad if I'm not a starter and I don't get to play more? Absolutely not. I understand my role and my role is to help this football team and I understand why they brought me here. I prepare myself to be a No. 1 guy. I go into the season as a slot guy, I'm totally fine with that. I'm happy. As long as it gives us the best chance to win games. If I'm in the slot, that means our team is where we want it to be. If I'm I the slot -- first game of the season, second, third, or just totally in the slot the rest of my career -- that means our team is where we need to be. If I'm starting that means we're hurting somewhere. I may get bigger numbers and stuff, but we're probably hurting ourselves.

"You really want me to be in the slot and have the bigger receiver guys on the outside who can really stretch it and open it up and I can get in the slot and work. The year in Cleveland when we went to the playoffs we had those bigger guys outside and I got in the slot and really worked it."