JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Way more rested than he would rather be but definitely ready to try reclaiming his status as one of the NFL’s top running backs, Maurice Jones-Drew has been given full medical clearance by the Jacksonville Jaguars to take part in training-camp activities when they begin Friday morning.
“Now it’s back to football,” Jones-Drew said Tuesday to a group of reporters at Everbank Field. “It’s been a long time coming. So I’m excited to get out there and finally run around and play.”
Although he has been going through a rehabilitation program in the Miami area and was in attendance for a portion of the Jaguars’ organized team activities, Jones-Drew has yet to practice after undergoing Lisfranc surgery on his left foot eight months ago. He played in only six games in 2012 and without him, the Jaguars plummeted to 30th in the league in rushing offense.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’m ready to do,” he said. “Obviously with not playing football in 10 months, I’m out of football shape a little bit. But I feel like after a week or two, I’ll be able to get out there and do what I need to do to be ready.”
First-year coach Gus Bradley described himself as “extremely, extremely excited” at the progress made by Jones-Drew. And the news clearly came as a pleasant surprise to incumbent starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
“He got cleared today? That’s good. That’s great,” Gabbert said. “Anytime you can get a player of his caliber who’s been as good for as long as he has cleared and ready to go, that’s only going to help this football team.”
Jones-Drew led the league in yards (1,606) and carries (343) two years ago. Over a three-year stretch, he rushed the ball 954 times. Expecting him to return to a comparable type of workload during the preseason would seem to be out of the question, especially with Bradley insisting he will be brought along slowly.
But don’t be surprised to see Jones-Drew put in more than a token appearance when the Jaguars face the Miami Dolphins the night of Aug. 9.
“I’ve done it both ways before,” he said. “I’ve carried the ball a lot in the preseason and had a good season, and then I also haven’t done preseason at all and done pretty well. For me, I just want to really get into practice and see how that goes. That’s the main focus now.”
He didn’t specify his current weight but said he has lost “a lot of weight” and would like to get down to around 212 pounds, or five below what he reported at last season following a contract holdout.
“I was in very good shape last year coming in,” he said. “This year, I only had two months to kind of get myself up and going. I did a lot of cutting, a lot of explosive running. And now I’m starting to get the cardio back up and things like that.”
Jones-Drew’s workouts away from the Jaguars included a group of running backs such as Frank Gore of the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. In previous years, he had gone home to California and spent time training with Justin Forsett, who the Jaguars signed in the offseason to back him up.
“He’s been probably the most consistent running back for, what, nine or 10 years now,” Jones-Drew said of Gore. “He’s always rushing for 1,000 yards. So to get back with him and have him push me, and vice versa, those were great things to do.”
His time away from the team became an issue in May when Jones-Drew was accused of punching a security guard at a restaurant in nearby St. Augustine. No charges were filed, and as far as he’s concerned, it’s a thing of the past.
“It’s been behind me,” he said. “It was just an unfortunate situation that happened, and I’m just ready for football now. I guess that was a hot story for a while.”
Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell were hired in the wake of a 2-14 finish by the Jaguars, the worst in the franchise’s history. Jones-Drew’s first impressions of them have been nothing short of glowing.
“I understand it’s a business,” he said. “And at one point, something’s going to happen where you’re not going to be able to play football anymore if you get too old or you’re not good enough. But to have that initial contact and know that they care more about you than just you being a commodity, that definitely helps out a bunch.”
When camp begins, the Jaguars will be without their first-round draft pick in 2012, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, and their second-year selection this year, safety Johnathan Cyprien. Blackmon is recovering from groin surgery but is eligible to play in preseason because his four-game suspension by the league doesn’t go into effect until the regular season opens. Cyprien strained a hamstring last week during a workout in Miami, but Bradley expects him to be back early next week.