Todd Fordham had become a forgotten man since the knee injury he suffered in a Jaguars-Falcons combined practice session in August of 1999. Now, Fordham is the Jaguars' starting right tackle and is attempting to establish himself as a player in the Jaguars' future.
Leon Searcy is said to be nearing the day when he may return to the lineup, but Fordham has given good accounts of himself in starting assignments against the Cowboys and Seahawks, and that's a major positive for a team that is desperate for depth on its offensive line. Of course, the Jaguars lost right tackle Zach Wiegert for the season when he suffered an ACL tear on Oct. 22.
In the Jaguars' 23-17 overtime win in Dallas, the offensive line permitted no sacks for the first time since midseason a year ago, and helped pave the way for Fred Taylor to rush for over 100 yards for the third consecutive game. It was, clearly, the Jaguars offensive line's most impressive performance of the season, and at a time when the line was at its most depleted state. Fordham got a large share of the credit.
"I'm pretty close. It's not completely normal, yet, but it's getting back to being the strength I need it to be," Fordham said of his surgically-repaired knee.
Most recently, in Sunday's loss to the Seahawks, Taylor again broke the 100-yard mark, and Fordham turned in a forceful effort against Seattle defensive end Michael Sinclair.
Fordham is a classic example of the type of player who will benefit the most from the Jaguars' bulging injury list. Should Searcy not return to action this season, Fordham would face such pass-rush notables as Pittsburgh's Jason Gildon, Tennessee's Jevon Kearse, Cleveland's Courtney Brown, Arizona's Andre Wadsworth and the Giants' Michael Strahan.
"It's definitely a great opportunity to prove I can play in this league. We're running out of Indians here. It's time to step up. That's what my coaches expect, that's what my teammates expect, and that's what I expect to do," Fordham said.
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith was in a similar position at midseason in 1995. Smith was just about to make his move as a pass-catcher, after a career that had been labeled a flop in Dallas and in Philadelphia.
"I knew I should've been playing. It was just a matter of me being on the field and getting experience," Smith said of '95.
"We've got a lot of good guys. It's just a matter of them getting on the field and building their confidence. That's what was wrong with me. I lacked confidence from what happened in Dallas and Philly. I didn't believe I belonged in the NFL. This is a chance for Todd Fordham to springboard his career," Smith said.
It's also an opportunity for the Jaguars to find players around whom they may rebuild their roster next season. In Fordham's case, a solid performance in the remaining six games of the season would give the Jaguars the comfort of knowing they have a player who offers depth at the critical tackle position.
"I don't think there were any doubts he could make it back. There were questions about the timetable. I've seen consistent improvement," offensive line coach Mike Maser said of Fordham.
"We'll find out if it's a situation he can handle. He's been a backup and this is his opportunity to see what he can do. We'll find out where to place him in the pecking order," Maser added.
Fordham's situation is not without precedent. Former Jaguars guard Rich Tylski is the best example. Tylski came to the Jaguars from the waiver wire in the summer of 1995, spent that season on the practice squad, barely made the final roster the following summer, then found himself in the starting lineup during the Jaguars' late-season run that carried the team to the AFC title game. Last winter, Tylski signed a seven-figure contract with the Steelers and now he's one of the league's established offensive linemen.
"Todd Fordham is in the same boat as Rich Tylski was four years ago," Maser said. "Now (Tylski's) a five-year starter and making a million dollars a year."