JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — While Maurice Jones-Drew might have been out of sight this week during the Jacksonville Jaguars’ organized team activities, he was never far from Justin Forsett’s mind.
A determining factor in why Forsett, who rushed for 374 yards last season in a backup role with the Houston Texans, chose to sign with the Jaguars was the bond he already established with Jones-Drew. The two of them had worked out in California during the offseason ever since Jones-Drew’s strength coach in high school accepted a similar job while Forsett was still enrolled at Berkley.
But with the NFL’s leading rusher from two years ago now in Miami rehabilitating a foot injury that kept him out of the final 10 games of the 2012 season, Forsett is among a group of backs vying for the attention of first-year coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars brought in Beanie Wells, a 1,000-yard rusher two years ago with the Arizona Cardinals, for a workout Thursday in a further exploration of their options.
Whenever Jones-Drew returns, Forsett could be the happiest of anyone in their locker room, even if that means his role will likely be reduced.
“We have a real good relationship,” he said. “That was one of the reasons I really feel comfortable about coming here, because we have that chemistry already. He’s not here right now, so I’ve got to go out and take the first-team reps and prepare like I’m going to be a first-team guy. When he gets back, we’ll work together.”
Forsett and Jones-Drew are by far the most experienced of the six running backs currently on the roster, although neither of them is the Jaguars’ most intriguing player at the position. That distinction goes to Denard Robinson, the highlight-grabbing former Michigan quarterback who was drafted in the fifth round and figures in the team’s future as a back rather than a wide receiver.
“He’s just a special athlete,” Forsett said of Robinson. “He can do everything. It’s going to be exciting to see what he can do on offense. I’m trying to teach him as much as I know to help him with the transition to running back.”
Forsett came into the NFL with no such fanfare. He was a seventh-round pick by Seattle in 2008 and was waived by the Seahawks early that season before re-signing with them. Over the next two seasons, he went from being a return specialist to a starter at running back while also catching the notice of Bradley, the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator at the time, and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch.
Fisch was one of the first hires made by Bradley in Jacksonville, and he remembered how Forsett — despite standing only 5-foot-8 — excelled at playing in a zone-blocking scheme and picking up blitzes. That ability should go a long way in earning the trust of quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, both of whom were often left defenseless against opposing pass rushers last season.
“A lot of people doubt me because of the size,” Forsett said. “But this game is a game of leverage, and the low pad wins. So I have an advantage there. But it’s mostly effort, mostly heart. You’ve got to be willing to go out and do it. I love it. There’s nothing like picking up a guy in the A gap and protecting your quarterback, because the quarterback will trust you. It actually helps energize the team just like a long run.”
Energy is a commodity that has hardly been in short supply around the Jaguars since Bradley came aboard Jan. 17. Forsett didn’t need to be told by anyone already with the team about Bradley’s ball-of-fire demeanor.
“I know the excitement that he was going to bring to practice every day,” he said. “You’re going to love coming to work for this guy because his energy is contagious. So that was a huge factor as well.”
Joining the Jaguars is a homecoming of sorts for Forsett. He grew up three hours away in Lakeland and has lots of relatives in the area, although he and his family moved to Texas when he was a junior in high school after his father took a job with a ministry in Arlington.
“I’ve been kind of away from everybody for a long time,” he said. “So being able to come back where everyone can come up and see me play live is awesome.”
Jones-Drew is expected to attend the Jaguars’ mandatory veteran mini-camp next Tuesday through Thursday. The last of those three days will be open to the public.