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Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp: 3 Position Battles to Watch

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May 28, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars safety James Sample (36) runs a blocking drill during OTAs at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

2) Free Safety: James Sample vs Sergio Brown

Sergio Brown is one of the better free agent bargains for the Jacksonville Jaguars during the offseason. Just $7 million over three years for the services of a guy who can man the free safety spot competently. It was a major need for the Jags and while they missed out on Devin McCourty, really anybody who can be in the right place at the right time is an improvement over the players manning the spot over the last couple of years.

So Brown looked like the perfect fit for the Jags, coming in to instantly bolster the secondary.

Then the Jags threw a bit of a curveball by selecting Louisville strong safety James Sample in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and stating he would be competing for the free safety job.

Suddenly Brown’s spot wasn’t so comfortable and he’s forced into a battle with the best coverage safety in college last year. If there ever was a player who had to seize his role and run away with it, it’s Brown.

Fortunately for Brown, Sample happened to break his arm this offseason. Unfortunately for Brown, Sample is expected to return in time for training camp. The takeaway from the unfortunate injury is that Brown should be head and shoulders more prepared for the season than Sample because of his additional offseason preparatory time. Whether that’s enough for him to lock up the job is yet to be seen. Frankly, Sample is a talented athlete and I expect he’ll still give Brown a run for his money.

It will be incredibly tough for Sample to transition to free safety, recover from a broken arm, and transition to the NFL level. It’s a lot to accomplish for a young athlete. If he can do it then he may just be the best thing to happen to the Jaguars secondary in a long, long time. If he can’t, expect him to keep competing with limited opportunities through the 2015 season.

What makes the free safety competition so interesting isn’t just watching Sample compete against Brown, it’s seeing what they both bring to the table for strong safety Johnathan Cyprien. Cyprien hasn’t been able to be used as intended because of free safety deficiencies and with a solid presence he may finally be able to find success. Expect big things from the strong safety position once the free safety slot is settled.

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