As the Jaguars’ veteran linebacker knows, you can’t play in the NFL for nearly a decade, avoid extended absence from injury, and not realize it takes a bit of luck, and yes, good fortune.
Still, knowing that doesn’t make this season any easier for him. Not even close, actually.
“There’s nothing more that I’d like to be doing than to be out there with the guys,” Smith said this week as the Jaguars (1-6) prepared to play the Detroit Lions (3-4) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
For that reason, the way last week played out was important.
The Jaguars a week ago placed Smith on injured reserve with a groin injury that has hampered him since early in training camp. But while the move would have ended Smith’s season in the past, the Jaguars this season used a new NFL rule that allows teams to place one player on the IR/designated for return list.
Smith will be out of practice another six weeks, but is eligible to return for the final two regular-season games.
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said last week it was important to Smith to return, and Smith – speaking early this week – agreed, saying he wanted to play because to not play at all during a season is a foreign concept.
“I’ve never been in this situation before,” Smith said. “I just couldn’t imagine not being able to suit up and play with the guys at some point this year. You put so much time and effort into working toward something – not being able to experience what you’ve been working toward is tough.
“I haven’t been rehabbing and doing everything I’ve been doing to be a coach for the whole season. I want to be out there and pull some of my share. You only get so many opportunities.”
Smith, a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, is the Jaguars’ all-time leading tackler, and last season he set a franchise record with 15 tackles for loss. As notable as his statistics has been his availability. Smith in eight previous NFL seasons missed just four games because of injuries.
“I already knew I was fortunate,” Smith said. “I have been blessed to not have injuries that I couldn’t play through. In this instance, I just couldn’t this year.”
Smith said he felt he was close to getting back this season on several occasions. He suffered a setback the week of the regular-season opener, and coaches believed he had a chance to return after the team’s bye week.
“That’s some of the toughest parts,” Smith said. “You feel good, and think you might can go, but you get out there and it’s not there. I’d be putting my teammates more at risk if I got out there and couldn’t go.
“I’ve been dealing with it all year. I only worry about the things I can control, and that’s that. I’m just going to continue to rehab. I have to wait at least six weeks now, so I’ve got a lot of time. I try not to think about it too much, but I try to help the team however I can.”
Also around the Jaguars:
* The Jaguars’ defense has played two of its better games of the season the last two weeks, with an improved run defense a major reason. After allowing at least 123 yards rushing in each of the first five games, the Jaguars have allowed 69 and 66 yards to the Raiders and Packers the last two games, respectively. Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said a huge reason for the improvement has been the return of defensive ends