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Gaining ground


Aaron Kampman knows it might be different somewhere else.

He knows a lot of teams might have given up on him. The Jaguars' 11-year veteran defensive end has been around the NFL long enough to know that, and he knows, too, there are plenty who doubt what he can do with the rest of his NFL career.

But Kampman said he knows something else more important than those two things.

He knows his body, and how it's supposed to feel.

"I know when I'm right," Kampman said Thursday afternoon.

And right now? Well, right now, after two frustrating, injury-shortened seasons with the Jaguars and amid an off-season of speculation about his future, Kampman said he's a lot closer to feeling right than he has felt in a long time. And he knows as far as he's concerned, that's what matters.

"This is the most confident I've been in a long time," he said, likening his return to health from a 2010 torn anterior cruciate ligament to an airplane taking flight.

"I'm in the air," he said. "I'm not at my cruising altitude yet, but I'm in the air, so I'm pretty excited about that."

Kampman, who signed with the Jaguars as a free agent in the 2010 off-season, did so after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament with the Green Bay Packers the season before. He had what he now terms as a pretty miraculous recovery, and played in all but 12 snaps in the Jaguars' first eight games that season.

He was playing well, he said, though not up to his own standards, and had four sacks before tearing the other ACL in a mid-week practice on November 11 of that season.

His 2010 ACL injury, he said this week, was different than the one in 2009.

"We label them as ACLs, but that'd be like saying you got in a car accident," Kampman said. "Did you get in a front-car accident, a side-car accident, a back-car accident? Was it 30 mph or 60 mph? You label injuries the same, but the reality is they're different."

This time, there was no miracle recovery. When he returned for 2011 training camp following the off-season lockout, he said at first he thought he was doing great. Soon into camp, he realized he wasn't where he needed to be.

He played three games in 2011, and with five games remaining in the season, he was placed on injured reserve. He had what he called cleanup surgery on the right knee in December, spent six weeks on crutches, and has been at the Jaguars' facility most days since.

Kampman said even when he did play last season, he wasn't himself.

"I was never close to what I consider my level of play," he said.

Kampman on Thursday said he knows there are those who doubt he can get reach that level again. He also said he knows the facts – that he will turn 33 in November, that he has played 11 games in two seasons and that he has had two major knee injuries in the last three seasons.

Kampman, for his part, points to the level of play early in 2010 – following his 2009 ACL – as evidence he can return to his previous level. His recovery from the other ACL hasn't been as quick or as easy, but he said he feels better now than he has at any time since the 2010 injury.

"People said the same thing about my first ACL – no way – and I was playing pretty well," Kampman said. "Really, it's a time thing, and quite frankly I've got some gas in the tank because I haven't been playing as much."

Kampman also said to him, his situation is hardly unfamiliar.

"When I came into the league I was known as a hard-working run-stuffer – a first-and-second-down guy," he said. "I wasn't invited to the combine. I wasn't invited to the Senior Bowl. When I was in college, I was worked out by a team as an offensive lineman. That's OK. I've learned your great opponent is yourself. When you start to live that way, that's more powerful.

"I had to learn that my great adversary would be myself. I know all that stuff's out there, but it doesn't detract from who I am, going about my job."

As for exactly when he will return to the field – in organized team activities next month, in May minicamps or training camp – Kampman said he is uncertain. He said he will continue to rely on Jaguars trainer Mike Ryan and team doctors.

"I've gotten to a point now after a couple of years of going through this stuff of saying, 'My plans aren't His plans, but I'm working toward that diligently," Kampman said. "I'm encouraged and Mike's encouraged. Everything's going really well."

Equally encouraging, Kampman said, is something that he said also motivates him to return, and that's the Jaguars' decision to have him continue with the team. After signing a big free agent contract and playing 11 games since, Kampan said that wouldn't happen everywhere.

"There are some places that would said, 'Hey, thanks for everything,''' Kampman said. "There has been a mutual commitment to one another. I think this organization and the people who make those decisions understand my commitment level. That's been reciprocated and what's been told to me. That's encouraging. It helps them to know where I stand and they know what they're going to get from me.

"When I signed on here and sat in (Jaguars General Manager) Gene Smith's office, I was sold on wanting to be part of bringing us back to excellence. Nothing has changed from that standpoint in my mind."

All that has changed is the physical, and on that front, Kampman said what he knows is far more important than what others believe they know.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to earn the right to get back to my form," Kampman said. "My goal is to surpass that. Most people aren't going to say, OK, that will happen, but that's OK for me. I get all that, but the reality is for me none of that matters. It's really how I feel. I'm trying to get to my cruising altitude I'm gaining ground."

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