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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Safety Johnathan Cyprien was Jacksonville's best rookie last year.
He was better than many veterans, too.
A second-round draft pick from Florida International, Cyprien finished with 98 tackles, six passes defended, two forced fumbles and an interception.
The Jaguars believe it was merely a starting point for a fast and physical defensive back who can cover receivers and athletic tight ends down the field as easily as he can support the run in the box.
"You look at him and he's the type of kid that he can be the best in the NFL," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "He has that type of talent and that type of ability and he wants to do things the right way. He wants to be great, so it's exciting to see because, for him, the sky's the limit."
Posluszny was hardly alone in his praise for Cyprien.
"He was pretty good as a rookie last year, so you start to talk about him in terms of some of the better defensive backs in the league," general manager Dave Caldwell said. "When you're 4-12, you don't get much credit. Here's a rookie safety with a hundred tackles, a sack, an interception, played pretty good and nobody even really said anything about him."
The Jaguars noticed.
They put Cyprien in the starting lineup Day 1, expecting growing pains in 2013. And there were plenty. He missed assignments, whiffed on tackles and got beat over the top. But he also made his share of plays, standing out at times in a secondary that lacked experience and in a defense that produced little pass rush.
"I tried my best, studied hard," Cyprien said. "But going into a new scheme and being a rookie, there were a lot of adjustments. I definitely had a couple of busts. I would make some plays, but I would have just as many busts. I didn't like that. Every week, my coaches and teammates helped me cut them down and cut them down."
Cyprien ended the season playing his best football. He recorded 10 tackles against Houston in early December and finished the season with six tackles and three passes defended at Indianapolis.
He showed up for the team's offseason program in great shape and hasn't missed a snap with the first-team defense.
"I'm in an upward battle with myself, trying to be the best that I can be," he said. "I'm definitely pushing myself on the field and off the field, to not just be one level better or two levels better, but to be the best as best as I can be coming up. I'm taking on that challenge."
The Jaguars are challenging him, too.
Instead of just lining Cyprien up against tight ends, fullbacks and running backs — the norm for some big safeties — they're pitting him against receivers in training camp. The 6-foot, 217-pound safety has responded by showing cornerback skills.
"He's pretty versatile in terms of some of the things we're asking him to do," secondary coach DeWayne Walker said. "His IQ and connection with his technique, he's figured out how the two go together. He's really coming around from a maturity standpoint. He's doing everything right in terms of evaluating his game from Year 1 to Year 2."
It's become common to see Cyprien lined up near the line of scrimmage in zone coverage, on the tight end in man coverage or in the middle of the field in single-high safety schemes. And he looks comfortable in every role.
"I just feel like he's playing with poise," coach Gus Bradley said. "Sometimes you look back there and you see their head is going one hundred miles per hour and trying to guess or anticipate what is going to happen. Now, it comes to him and he's reacting. When you do that, you see more consistent play."
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