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Feeling good

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It wasn't a hit, exactly, and Maurice Jones-Drew later called it a "thud."

No matter the definition, he liked it.

The hit, thud or whatever came Saturday in the two-time Pro Bowl running back's first practice of the 2011 season. It was enough to feel like real football contact, and Jones-Drew said Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio didn't much care for it.

Jones-Drew felt differently.

After working on the side in the first two weeks of camp, then not playing in the preseason opener against New England, Jones-Drew said what he mostly wanted in his first relatively live practice was to get hit, to experience a feeling he hadn't felt in too long.

 "I love it," Jones-Drew said Sunday between a pair of Jaguars 2011 Training Camp practices. "I kind of got that feel back getting hit. Today was no soreness, no setbacks. No nothing."

As Jones-Drew sees it, that's a good sign.

Actually, he said he feels good about his knee and pretty much everything else about football nowadays, opinions of media and what he calls "fantasy-football gurus" notwithstanding. His knee feels good – a whole lot better than this time last year – and he said has little doubt he will be ready and able to play at a high level when the regular season begins September 11.

"I guess you could pretty much say they got me a new knee on eBay, which is pretty cool," he said.

Not that Jones-Drew figures everyone agrees.

"Pretty much every reporter, 'Will he be back, is it possible to come back and do what he's done?''' Jones-Drew said. "A lot of fantasy football gurus who have never stepped on the field before or ever been in the locker room, they know the best about football."

The questions around Jones-Drew began late last season, and have increased since a remarkable season after which he made a second consecutive Pro Bowl.

Jones-Drew, in his second season as the full-time starter, spent the 2010 season playing through a knee injury, finishing with 1,324 yards and five touchdowns on 299 carries. Despite constant knee pain, he seemed to improve as the season continued, his streak of six consecutive 100-yard rushing games in October, November and early December helping the Jaguars win five of six games to move into first place in the AFC South.

A 46-yard, 15-carry performance in a season-turning loss to Indianapolis broke the streak, and Jones-Drew missed the final two games of the season before undergoing knee surgery early in the offseason. Since then, much of the talk around him has been about the knee. To his way of thinking, much of the speculation has been that he won't be the same after the surgery.

"As long as I feel healthy, I'll be able to roll," he said. "I feel totally different, because there's no pain at all. I think that's the biggest thing, because no matter how tough it is, or how sharp the pain is or how dull the pain is, it's pain. This year, there is no pain. It's just going out there and playing like I'd been playing the first couple of years without it."

Jones-Drew practiced Sunday and said he plans to practice Sunday night. Del Rio said Saturday Jones-Drew won't play in Friday's preseason home opener against Atlanta, and while Jones-Drew would like to play at some point in the final two preseason games, whether or not that will happen has yet to be determined.

For now, Jones-Drew said his focus is not only playing in a preseason game to prepare, but simply working his way back up the depth chart. He said he got about 10 repetitions in practice Saturday, and Jones-Drew said it's not his way to assume that will change.

"I'm last on the depth chart, I feel, with the reps I got yesterday," Jones-Drew said. "I was talking to all the running backs, even the rookie free agents, and I was telling them, 'I'm taking everybody's job one day at a time.' Right now, I'm at the bottom of the depth chart and I have to work my way back to the top. That's how it is in this league. You have to prove yourself day after day."

An area in which Jones-Drew said he wants to prove something to himself – or at least get a familiar feeling – could come in a preseason game. Because he said while getting a thud or whatever it was in training camp was good, it wasn't a preseason-level thud.

"Getting tackled to the ground is a feeling you want to feel, so hopefully, the coaches will be confident enough to let me do it in preseason," he said. "If not, Week 1 it will be."

And whenever he does return, Jones-Drew said the reality is he will be returning with something to prove for the media and the fantasy football gurus and all of those who he said can't seem to stop doubting what he can do.

"There are a lot of people, but for me it is what it is," he said. "I can't say they're wrong or they're right because everybody has a right to their opinion. I just have to go out there and prove to my teammates and to the guys that are around me that I am back to who I used to be."

"The world has always been against me. I don't need it, it just has happened since I've been little so it's been no big deal."

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