Daryl Smith's wait may be ending soon. At last.
And the veteran outside linebacker said while that would mean playing a maximum of two games at the end of a difficult, disappointing Jaguars season, playing those two games is important for a basic, uncomplicated reason.
He's a football player, which makes playing important whatever the circumstance.
"Some guys don't get to come back – I've got a chance," Smith said Thursday as the Jaguars (2-12) prepared to play the AFC East Champion New England Patriots (10-4) at Everbank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. "I'm excited about it, and I'm looking forward to it."
Smith, the Jaguars' all-time leading tackler, has missed the entire season with a groin injury, but is eligible to be removed from the injured reserve/designated for return list on Saturday. That would allow him to play in the team's final two games.
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Thursday there hasn't been a final decision on Smith's status made yet, but Smith has practiced the last two days, and Mularkey said Wednesday he believed Smith likely would play Sunday.
Jaguars Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker and Mularkey each said this week it remained to be determined how many snaps Smith might play Sunday.
"So far, so good," Tucker said Thursday, adding that Smith's presence in the lineup would mean getting one of the NFL's best players at his position into a unit that has struggled much of the season.
"He gives you a physical presence in the run game," Tucker said. "He's probably our best pass rusher from a two-point stance and he's a veteran and he has been through it. He knows how to play the game. He brings outstanding leadership to our football team as well.
"Overall, it's always a positive when you talk about Daryl Smith."
Smith, like Mularkey and Tucker, said it remained to be seen how effective he will be in his first game back. He has been out since early in training camp, and hasn't played a game of any kind since the 2011 regular-season finale.
"I just want to go out and there and give it my all and try to make plays when I'm in position to make them," he said. "Everyone else has been working all year long. They're in end-of-season form, so I'll just go out and do my best. I've been working each day doing a little more, so we'll see."
Smith set a Jaguars record for tackles for losses last season, and is generally considered one of the team's best two or three defensive players. A year ago, he was a member of the NFL's No. 6-ranked defense.
This year, the Jaguars are ranked 31st in the NFL defensively, and have allowed at least 160 yards rushing in each of the last three games.
"It's been tough," Smith said. "Seeing everybody else playing . . . and I'm not. I feel like I could help, but I really couldn't – not on the field, anyway."
Smith, a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft, is in the final year of his contract, and if he doesn't re-sign with the team before the end of the league year in early spring, he will become a free agent. In theory, that would make it beneficial to Smith to play two games to show the Jaguars and other teams he has returned from the injury to play at his previous level.
Smith, though, said he would return for the final two games no matter his contract status.
"I'm so past that right now," Smith said. "This is just about me getting back to playing the game I love and getting out there with the team. It's the same whether I'm in Year One or Year Five.
"I have the same approach and it ain't going to change."
Also around the Jaguars:
*Running back Maurice Jones-Drew was listed as not practicing for a second consecutive day, and Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said the three-time Pro Bowl selection likely will be listed as questionable entering the weekend. Jones-Drew has missed eight consecutive games with a foot sprain, but ran Wednesday and ran again on Thursday, something Mularkey said is an encouraging step. "We'll see where he goes after today," Mularkey said.
*Tucker said he's not disappointed with his interview process with the University of Wisconsin. Tucker met with Wisconsin Athletics Director Barry Alvarez about the school's head football coaching position in Jacksonville last Friday, with the school this week hiring former Utah State Head Coach Gary Andersen for the position. "We had a really good talk about the position," Tucker said. "It was good to catch up with him. It's been a while since I sat down with him for that length of time." Tucker was a member of Alvarez's first recruiting class at the school in 1991. "I feel good about the process and how things shook out," Tucker said. "I talked to Coach Alverez this (Thursday) morning and expressed my support for him and his program."