Now, Tyson Alualu said he can look to the future.
And when the Jaguars' third-year defensive tackle looks there, he said what he sees is far different than what he usually saw the past two seasons.
Full weeks of practice. Weekends without worry. Game days without pain.
Alualu, the No. 10 overall selection by the Jaguars in the 2010 NFL Draft, said such times were rare in his first two professional seasons. He also said he hopes by undergoing surgery to repair what he called a "minor" micro-fracture in his knee recently they can become much more common.
"I feel great," Alualu said early this week. "I'm looking forward to what I'll be able to do with a healthier knee. I can't wait to come back and prepare for this upcoming season."
Alualu shortly after this past season said he hoped to address what has been a lingering knee issue with rest and strengthening, but after consulting with team trainers opted for the surgery early last month.
"We just felt like that would be the best option," he said.
Alualu, who played collegiately at California, started all 16 regular-season games each of his first two NFL seasons, and throughout most of that time he has been productive. He helped the Jaguars to a No. 6 overall defensive ranking this past season, and coaches say he has been a disruptive force on the defensive interior.
Still, Alualu said he also has dealt with pain in the knee that at times has made it difficult to play – and that at times has been severe enough he wondered while warming up for games if he indeed would be able to play.
"It was different every game," Alualu said. "I remember some games I'd warm up and feel like I wouldn't be able to go. Every week, I'd get text messages from family and friends, 'Will you be all right to go?' That changed week to week. Sometimes I felt good. Sometimes I felt great. Sometimes I felt like, 'Would I be able to start this game?'''
Alualu, who finished last season with 22 quarterback pressures – second on the team – said there were times he told Jaguars coaches he wasn't sure he'd be able to play.
"I'd feel good, then right before the game my knee wouldn't be cooperating," he said. "It felt like I wouldn't be able to put my team in the best situation. Those were moments I think my faith kicked in and I'd say a prayer. I think that's a big thing that has allowed me to get to this point in my career. I consider myself blessed to have played every game in the NFL.
"It was important to me, not from a record standpoint, but being able to fight through some injuries. If you love the game, you want to be out there. When I say there were some games that I wondered if I wouldn't be able to go, I never questioned or said, 'Maybe I should sit this out.' I wanted to be out there."
Alualu said while it's too early to know for sure how his knee will feel next season, he is optimistic. He said he currently is in the "boring" part of the rehabilitation process – i.e., taking things slow, consulting with trainers, allowing time to heal. He also said while he has not yet discussed a timetable for a return, he said he expects to be ready by the regular season.
"I'm believing and having faith that it will get to where I want it to be, where it needs to be," Alualu said. "It's on the right track and getting better every day. There's no need to rush. My whole mindset is just being ready by the time the season comes. We're just taking it a day at a time."
It long has been speculated that Alualu's production has been limited in spots because of the knee injury. He said while he can't predict how he will play next season, he does look forward to seeing how he can perform if fully healthy.
"I'm not saying it's going to go perfectly, but I think it does give me a chance to perform and be at my best with a better knee," Alualu said. "It's like everything you approach in life – I just want to be able to go out there and give it my all for my teammates and for the game."
Alualu said just as important as being healed enough to continue playing every game – and perhaps doing so at a higher level – is healing enough to participate fully in practice. Alualu throughout much of last season was limited at least one day a week in practice.
"That's what we're hoping for," he said. "I want to be able to grind throughout the season and in camp. It makes a big difference. I can learn from seeing things, but I think I learn better from going through it and being hands on, on the field.
"For me, practice is a big thing. For me to have an opportunity to be out there and get the looks I need is really going to help me."
Alualu said doctors have told him that that's a real possibility moving forward – not just participation in practice, but the ability to prepare fully, year-round and on a daily basis. And as much as anything he has heard in recent weeks, Alualu said that's why when he looks to the future, he likes what he sees.
"Especially being a young player, I don't want to be limited," Alualu said. "I want to be out there showing my teammates that I'm there for them – not just on game days, but through the grind of camp and practice. I'm excited about that. They're telling me to trust the process.
"It's not something where I'm just going to be better right now, but I trust that I'll be at my best when the season starts and that it will help prolong my career in the NFL."