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First-rounder Nelson taking on more responsibility with Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Safety Reggie Nelson served teammates dinner following the preseason opener, carried several sets of shoulder pads and a few extra helmets after every practice and sat still while his eyebrows were shaved and again as he was taped to the goalpost.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have asked a lot of their first-round draft pick.

And Nelson has yet to disappoint them.

Not only has he handled every bit of rookie hazing with a smile, he's also earned a starting spot and taken on added responsibility following the departure of veterans Deon Grant and Donovin Darius.

"They expect a lot out of you," Nelson said Monday. "Here, they're asking a little bit more of me. So far, I'm doing pretty good with it."

Nelson made his debut Saturday in Miami and played more than any other defensive starter. He didn't make much of an impact, though. No tackles. No interceptions. He didn't even defend a pass.

But the Jags saw plenty.

"He jumped out there under pressure and made calls and those types of things," secondary coach Dave Campo said. "He flew around the field. He didn't get involved in a lot of stuff, but he was chasing the football. I thought he did very well."

The Jaguars selected Nelson with the 21st overall pick in April, passing on quarterback Brady Quinn to fill a much-needed spot on defense.

The team lost Grant in free agency and was planning to part ways with Darius, who was still recovering from a broken leg sustained last season.

Nelson was an obvious choice. An All-American at nearby Florida, he helped lead the Gators to the national championship last season. Florida primarily played a single-high safety, relying on Nelson's speed, instincts and play-making ability to cover most of the field.

"Reggie, in my opinion, was one of the best that's ever played that position," Florida coach Urban Meyer said.

Nelson finished his junior season with 51 tackles, six interceptions and countless game-changing plays. The Jaguars expect him to have the same kind of impact at the NFL level.

But the shy, quiet, unassuming Nelson is having to adjust his introverted ways.

"He's not as vocal as he needs to be," Campo said. "He will be. It's not a case of him not knowing what he's doing. We have thrown everything we had on defense at him and we didn't have to slow down a lick. He's just not a naturally vocal guy, and that's something that's he's working on."

The Jags rely on their safeties to make all the secondary calls and coverage adjustments, and to get the right players on the field and in the right spots on passing downs.

Grant and Darius made it look easy.

Nelson struggled early, but seems to be finding his niche after a three-day mini-camp, more than a dozen summer practices and nearly three weeks of training camp.

"You have to be the quarterback of the team back there for the secondary," Nelson said. "I had to get used to it because they didn't ask me to do that at Florida. I'm talking and trying to be vocal, and it's working out pretty good for me."

All that hazing has worked out just fine, too.

Of course, he had to convince teammates Paul Spicer and John Henderson to save his dreadlocks, which Nelson had been letting grow for four years. They agreed, but only if Nelson allowed them to shave his eyebrows instead.

"It took a lot of begging," Nelson said. "But it was worth it."

Notes: The Jags signed S Sammy Knight and released S Kevin McCadam. Knight gives the team experience and added depth in the secondary. ... LB Clint Ingram (ankle) and QB Quinn Gray (ankle) missed practice Monday. ... CB Scott Starks (hand) has not been cleared for full contact, which was why he sat out the preseason opener.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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