JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Maurice Jones-Drew made good on his promise.
The Jacksonville Jaguars running back said in June that he would be ready to go at the start of training camp. On Tuesday, two days before the Jaguars report to camp, coach Gus Bradley announced that Jones-Drew had been cleared by team doctors to start practice with his teammates on Friday.
“I’m extremely, extremely excited by the progress he’s made. He’s been cleared by our training staff,” Bradley said. “The biggest thing with us as a staff, is to be really smart with Maurice. We’re going to have to bring him along slowly. You’ll see him out there getting some reps but we want to make sure we’re smart with him and how fast we bring him back.”
Jones-Drew last practice with the team was the middle of October last year following the team’s bye week. He suffered a fracture of his left foot, later diagnosed as a Lisfranc injury, on the first play from scrimmage against Oakland on October 21.
He missed all of the Jaguars OTA practices and the team’s minicamp for veterans in mid-June. But on the last day of the Jaguars minicamp, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2011 said he would be ready when camp opened in late July.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’m excited to get out there, run around and play,” Jones-Drew said. “Not playing football for 10 months, you get out of football shape a little bit, but I feel like after a week or two I’ll be able to get out there to do what I need to do to be ready.”
He wouldn’t say what his weight is going into camp but said he would likely drop a little more once he starts practicing.
“I don’t need to drop much, but just a little bit more just so I get comfortable and get ready to play,” he said. Last year he opened the season at 217 but said he would like to start the regular season this fall around 212 to 215.
Despite being away from the game for the last 10 months, Jones-Drew said he hasn’t changed since he last carried the ball for the Jaguars.
“I’m the same guy. That’s how I’ve been training, like I wasn’t hurt,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get back out there. “For me, not playing football for 10 months, not wearing pads, not having that soreness, that’s the thing you want to get back and get used to. Other than that, everything else is natural.”
Jones-Drew said the offseason incident at a St. Augustine restaurant is behind him. He allegedly hit a bouncer in the face at The Conch House Restaurant in late May. Jones-Drew was never officially charged.
“It has been behind me. It was just an unfortunate situation that happened,” he said. “I’m just ready for football now. That was a hot story for a while, now it’s time to play football. It’s a relief now that we can talk football.”
On the field the biggest unresolved position battle for the Jaguars remains at quarterback.
Neither Blaine Gabbert nor Chad Henne distanced themselves from the other to claim the starting job. Bradley said it’s a wide open competition for the starting spot, one that he’s looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
“I’m not going to get into how we’re going to do reps, but they will all be faced in the same situations,” the first-year Jaguars coach said. “We have a plan in place as far as the quarterback situation. I know in Seattle we faced some of the same situations. I’m trusting my gut along with the help of other coaches that when the time is right, we’ll make that decision.”
The news on Jones-Drew overshadows the status of several other players who will start camp on the sidelines, including another offensive weapon for the Jaguars.
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon had groin surgery following the team’s last offseason workout in June. Bradley said the second-year receiver will be placed on PUP (physically unable to perform) when he reports to the team on Thursday.
Blackmon needs the training camp practices and preseason games to help prepare for the month he’ll miss during the regular season. In late April, he was suspended for the first four games of the season after a second violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy in less than a year.
Three other players will also be withheld from the start of practice.
Johnathan Cyprien, second-round draft pick in the spring who is projected as a starter at safety, is on the non-football injury list after suffering a strained hamstring during a workout in Miami last week. In addition, rookie guard Stephane Milhim (foot) will start on PUP and fourth-year receiver Taylor Price (foot) will be placed on PUP when he reports on Thursday.