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Couch signs with Jaguars, hopes to revive career

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Couch's agent sent a memo to all NFL teams a few weeks ago, letting them know the former No. 1 draft pick was healthy again and looking for a place to play.

The Jacksonville Jaguars were the first to call and Couch jumped at the opportunity.

He signed a two-year contract with the Jaguars on Sunday, getting a chance to revive his career as a backup to quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Couch, the top pick by Cleveland in 1999, hasn't played a down in the NFL since the 2004 preseason.

"Right now, I'm just trying to be a guy, fit in, learn the offense and just try to make the football team - nothing more than that," Couch said following his first practice Sunday night.

The contract, which did not include a signing bonus, will pay Couch the veteran minimum of $595,000 this season if he makes the team. He would earn slightly more in 2008.

Couch could end up supplanting Quinn Gray as the team's third-string quarterback - a move that would save the Jags about $700,000 this season.

Gray, who has failed to move up the depth chart in four years playing behind Leftwich and David Garrard, signed a one-year deal worth $1.3 million in April.

But Gray has a sprained ankle and started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. Coach Jack Del Rio said he needed a fourth quarterback during camp. The team also has undrafted rookie Lester Ricard.

"We plan on throwing the ball in this camp and we're a little short at that position with Quinn down, so we've added a fourth quarterback," Del Rio said. "At some point, Quinn will get healthy and we'll deal with the numbers. At this point, we've added an experienced quarterback to come in and give us an opportunity to throw the football like we need to in this camp."

Scott Eyster from Delta State and Sam Hollenbach from Maryland worked out alongside Couch on Sunday, and the Jaguars struck a deal with the former Kentucky star after he passed a physical. Couch had shoulder surgery in 2004 to repair a torn labrum, a torn biceps and a torn rotator cuff.

He tried to return too soon following that injury, ended up tearing the rotator cuff again in 2006 and needed a second surgery.

"I have a lot of confidence I can play," Couch said. "I'm going to throw some balls over people's heads and throw some balls at people's feet just to get the timing back down and get used to throwing to these fast receivers again. Once I get back into the swing of things, I feel confident that I can play the game."

The Jags considered signing Daunte Culpepper following his release from Miami, but Culpepper reportedly wanted just a one-year deal.

The team ended up with another member of the heralded 1999 quarterback draft class, which included Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Culpepper and Cade McNown - all taken in the top 12

Couch's five years in Cleveland were filled with disappointment. He was sacked often, booed regularly and plagued by elbow trouble.

He played in 62 games with the Browns, completing 59.8 percent of his passes for 11,131 yards with 64 touchdowns and 67 interceptions.

After leaving Cleveland in 2004, Couch signed a one-year deal with Green Bay to be Brett Favre's backup. The Packers didn't work out Couch before signing him to a contract that included a $625,000 bonus, and it seemed to backfire.

Couch was bothered by the sore shoulder, struggled to grasp the West Coast offense and couldn't even unseat third-string quarterback Craig Nall.

Couch completed 11 of 34 passes for 96 yards with no touchdowns in three preseason games and was cut just before the season opener.

But he didn't want his career to end that way.

"This is what I do. This is what I love to do," he said. "Sitting out the last few years, I think I really got the hunger back to play again. I just didn't like the way my career ended in Green Bay with the shoulder injury. I just wanted to give myself a chance to play a few more years and go out on better terms."

Couch worked out for Chicago and Cincinnati in 2005, but neither team signed him. He worked out for Tennessee, Miami, Pittsburgh and Houston last year.

"He's got an opportunity like anybody else in camp," Del Rio said. "His first opportunity is to make the football team. We're not setting anything out in terms of drama. You guys make it as dramatic as you like. We've got 86 guys in camp. He's one of 86."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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