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JEFFCOAT THE ELDER IS WORKING HARD AT HAVING FUN

He still has fun.

That's Jim Jeffcoat's simple answer to the not-so-simple question of why, at 36, he subjects himself to the sweat, pain, drudgery and tedium of training camp.

The oldest man on the Buffalo Bills' roster still has fun going through the drills, sitting through the meetings, and -- he hopes -- getting through the preseason games without a serious injury.

It's not about money anymore. Jeffcoat made plenty during 12 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, and has received plenty more since joining the Bills as a free agent two years ago.

"I enjoy coming out here," he said with a perfectly straight face after Thursday's practice at Fredonia State College. "I enjoy being with these guys."

Sure enough, while the Bills were broken into units before Thursday's workout, it was Jeffcoat's booming voice that could be heard above all others as he kibitzed with teammates and coaches. His was also the biggest smile emanating from his group.

What you don't hear or see from him is much groaning or laborious movement. His 6-foot-5, 289-pound frame looks as fit as ever and has no trouble keeping up with younger teammates.

Just ask seventh-year defensive end Phil Hansen.

"We do a take-off drill every day and I'm paired with Jim every day, and I still can't believe the old man can beat me off the ball, but he does," Hansen said. "They say that guys lose a step as they get older. I don't know why he hasn't lost a step."

Here's a clue: In recent years, Jeffcoat has taken extra measures in the offseason -- which he and his family spend in Irving, Texas -- to enhance his physical conditioning. Earlier this month, he received a black belt in tae kwon-do. He also trained with a younger player, Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett, in order to push himself harder.

One way Jeffcoat helps sharpen his concentration in camp is to create a daily challenge to improve an aspect of his game.

"I tell (defensive line coach) Dan Sekanovich that I'm going to work on a particular move and I try to make it work," he said. "And if it doesn't work, I'm going to look at it on film and see why it didn't work."

Wednesday's focus was thrusting his hands into an opposing blocker as quick as possible, then making his move around him.

"I've made some strides, but there's always going to be some days where you don't get as much done as possible," Jeffcoat said. "And that's the challenging part of it. You have to keep working at it, keep on trying to improve it."

"Jim's a remarkable individual," coach Marv Levy said. "He conditions himself, he's enthusiastic about the game, he communicates well with others, he's bright, and I like his values."

Jeffcoat wasn't hasty about deciding to try to play a 15th NFL season. He and his wife, Tammy, talked it over extensively. They concluded they were up for another year of packing up their three children -- 9-year-old Jaren and 6-year-old twins Jackson and Jacqueline -- in August and trekking from Texas to Western New York.

And, yes, the rest of the Jeffcoats should have a reason to travel north next month.

Levy said the Bills wouldn't have bothered to keep Jim under contract if they didn't have a spot for him. Sure, they made a stud defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, their second-round draft pick. But he still has plenty to learn about the NFL. Even if Bruce Smith were in camp, the rest of the defensive line depth would be thin, especially with tackle Shawn Price expected to miss a large chunk of the season with an injured elbow.

Jeffcoat's role will be the same as last year -- playing left tackle in obvious passing situations and trying to collapse the pocket to create sacking opportunities for the outside rushers.

"But eventually," Jeffcoat said, "I am going to retire and they're going to need someone to replace me."

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