Tony Brackens will begin his participation in spring drills tomorrow in a familiar role: limited. But Brackens' rehab from his most recent knee surgery is not to be confused with what he faced a year ago, when the veteran defensive end missed all of spring drills and nearly all of training camp as he attempted to recover from microfracture knee surgery that threatened to end his career.
Brackens was on the field today in an observer's role, after having signed a one-year contract with the team this morning. Brackens told reporters this afternoon that he is "happy" with the contract, which provides incentives for "playing time and sacks."
"I still think I've got 3-4 good years left in me," he said.
Brackens was the Jaguars' starting left defensive end last season and he said he hopes to be a "starter somewhere" this year. That will depend, of course, on his ability to recover from meniscus surgery on his right knee this past winter. Brackens injured that knee late last season, most of which was dedicated to recovery from surgery on his left knee in 2002.
"As good as it's going to get," Brackens said of his left knee, then joked, "compared to my right knee, it's my best knee right now."
Once upon a time, before knee injuries reduced Brackens' career to an ongoing rehabilitation process, he was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the game. It was a reputation that earned him one of the biggest contracts in the league in 2000, but it became a contract that required alterations the past two years.
The Jaguars released Brackens in a salary cap move before the start of free agency this past winter. It means $7 million of amortization will appear on the Jaguars' salary cap this season as "dead money," which also means Brackens' amortization will have been extinguished when this season ends. The new deal adds no money to future years' salary caps.
"It's a business. It wasn't an emotional type deal," he said of being released. "If I couldn't go back home, to Texas, I wanted to come back here."
New Orleans and Green Bay were two teams that showed mild interest in Brackens, who chose to sign with the Jaguars because "I had been here, was comfortable with the fan base, the coaching staff, and I didn't want to move my family," he said.
"I'm not out to prove anything. I'm here to play as a team and win the Super Bowl," Brackens added.
Last week, coach Jack Del Rio urged Brackens to quicken the pace of negotiations. "We're building a team and I have stressed (that) need all spring," Del Rio told reporters following this morning's practice.
"We're happy to have Tony back. I'm sure he's glad to be back with the team. He still has some work to do, as far as his legs, and the best chance to do that is to be here with the team," Del Rio added.
Brackens said he expects to be eased into drills. "They'll probably bring me along slowly. It's not something I need to rush into. Keep the rehab going; we don't need any setbacks," he said.
Last season, Brackens led the Jaguars with six sacks, but the team's 24 sacks were fourth-worst in the league and was a major contributor to the Jaguars' next-to-last third-down defense ranking. The situation at defensive end remains desperate and the team's hopes for this season clearly rest on an improved pass-rush.
Meanwhile, quarterback David Garrard is back at home following surgery last Thursday that removed part of Garrard's colon. Garrard has been diagnosed to have Crohn's Disease and it's hoped the surgery will significantly ease the effects of Crohn's.
"His body has responded well," Del Rio said of Garrard.
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith was excused from this morning's practice, the sixth of 14 spring on-field workouts.