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Center Is A Position To Watch

McGlynn understands he isn't going to be given anything, and certainly not with veteran Jamaal Jackson healthy and ready to play after a knee injury ended his 2009 season prematurely and a torn triceps muscle shut down 2010 almost as soon as it started.

This, folks, is Jackson's job to lose.

That is not at all a slap at McGlynn, who stepped in during the opener against Green Bay and manned the center spot well for the remainder of the season. McGlynn adjusted well to a new position -- his primary playing time in his brief career to that point came at guard -- and the up-beat tempo of quarterback Michael Vick and improved every week as the offense soared for much of the year.

Jackson, though, offers a different, more experienced dimension. He has been in the league for seven seasons and at one point started 71 consecutive games at center after beating out Hank Fraley for the job for good in 2006. It is a what-comes-around, goes-around-story for Jackson. He became the starting center in 2005 when Fraley suffered a rotator cuff injury and then waged a highly-scrutinized competition for the starting spot during training camp in '06.

Now, Jackson is playing the role of the savvy veteran trying to come back from an injury (in his case, two injuries) and holding off the hungry younger player.

And make no mistake, the position is vital to the goings-on of the offense. The offensive line fell apart in 2009 when Jackson was hurt in a Week 16 win over Denver. McGlynn had the benefit of an entire preseason of action last year, so he was ready when Jackson was hurt in the first half of the opening-game loss to Green Bay. McGlynn showed everyone his toughness, his durability and his smarts week in and week out to run the offense.

The guess here is that offensive line coach Howard Mudd will have an open competition at center -- in fact, he is likely to approach things that way at every position, if he has enough time to properly evaluate each player prior to the season -- and may the best man win. Jackson is a larger player who has seen every blitz in his NFL years. He is an explosive center. He is a leader along the offensive line.

McGlynn figures to be a much-improved player when business opens for practice. He benefited greatly from last season's experience. He knows he needs to improve in every area, as all young players do, and he has the work ethic to make it happen.

And so while the other position battles will garner more attention -- particularly those at cornerback, at the safety spots, along the front seven and even in other areas within the offensive line -- center is going to be every bit as riveting and certainly just as important. Jackson vs. McGlynn, the first center battle in five seasons, and one worth keeping an eye on.  

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