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High hopes


He had no preconceived notions, which to Rashean Mathis worked both ways.

He didn't know what to expect returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, so he didn't know how tough it could be. It also meant no limitations.

So, when teammates tell the 10-year veteran cornerback they can't believe where he is in his recovery – and he said plenty have done so – Mathis said he feels good about it. But surprised?

No, he really wasn't surprised.

"It's responding great," he said. "That's all I can go by."

No expectations. As little worry as possible. Controlling what he can. Facing the most difficult offseason of his career. That has been Mathis' approach, the only one he knew how to take, and so far, it has worked.

Just how well it has worked? Mathis said he'll get a better idea June 4.

That's the day he's scheduled to visit Doctor James Andrews, the renowned Birmingham, Ala.-based orthopedist who performed the reconstructive surgery on his knee.

What he hopes to hear is he's allowed to practice – at least on a limited basis – before the Jaguars finish their off-season program, which continues this week with organized team activities at Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. His goal is the team's mandatory mini-camp June 12-14.

"I'm looking to do something there," he said. "That's just hopes – that's high hopes."

But it also would be in keeping with what until now has been a remarkably quick recovery from an injury that often keeps players out for nearly a full year, sometimes longer.

Mathis sustained his injury Nov. 13 against Indianapolis, and had reconstructive surgery the following month. He said he has had no setbacks since, something that's key to returning quickly from an ACL tear, and said this week his primary concern is strengthening the quad around the injury.

Mathis is working on the side during OTAs, cutting three times a week and he's doing it without a knee brace.

"Rashean has gone against the odds of the time frame of what they said he is going to be ready," Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said this week.

Mularkey said if Mathis is cleared by Andrews and feels ready he will have no problem with Mathis practicing, and said while it likely would be on a limited basis, there would be benefit to him working.

"Especially with the time that's coming where you can't do anything with the team – I think it would be outstanding if he could get some work done with his teammates," Mularkey said. "I think it'd be good for his teammates when it's all said and done. We're still on the path for that."

Mularkey added of the possibility of a mid-June return, "To me, that would be remarkable."

But hardly unearned. Cornerback Derek Cox, a starter opposite Mathis since 2009, was asked Tuesday about Mathis' approach to recovery. He said he wasn't surprised with Mathis' progress, and rattled off a list of descriptives he said pretty much matched Mathis' overall approach to football: intent, direct, focused, honed in, ready to go, business-like . . .

"He approached it with all intent on making a rapid recovery," Cox said.

Mularkey, who took the Jaguars' job January 11, said he can't recall a day since that Mathis hasn't been in the training room.

"Every day that I can think of he's been here trying to get back," Mularkey added.

Mathis said one key to his progress has been believing it was possible. While he was aware of players having extended recovery periods with a torn ACL, he also had heard of players who had recovered more quickly. Players such as Wes Welker of the New England Patriots had recovery quickly from knee injuries, he figured. Why not him?

"My body responds differently than your body," he said. "With different things, people's bodies respond in different ways. It's been done before. I'm not the first, and I'm not defying all odds. I knew there was a possibility I could be way ahead of the curve. It was all about how I took care of myself.

"I've never had one before, so I don't know if I expected to be 'whatever this far ahead of the curve is.' I did expect my body to react well to it. How well? Who knows?

"Am I very happy with where I am now? Yes. Very happy."

Not that his process is over. And not that he's necessarily overcome his final obstacle.

Rehabilitating a torn ACL, players who have been through one will tell you, is one thing. Another is playing at the same level upon return. That can take longer than many athletes expect.

"It's definitely a mental thing," he said. "I think I'll be strong enough mentally to get over that when the time comes."

And as he does, he'll face competition unlike any he has faced in nearly a decade. The Jaguars this off-season signed cornerback Aaron Ross from the New York Giants. With Cox entrenched as the starter on one side, Ross and Mathis are expected to compete for the other starting position with the other expected to play nickel.

Mathis said though he expects to play if healthy, he can't control the outcome of that competition. He also said Ross will make the Jaguars a better defense, and if he must play nickel, he has experience doing so, having played it early in his career.

Mostly, he said, he'll worry as little as possible – the only approach he knew to take, and one that so far this off-season has worked as well as he could have imagined.

"The more you can do, that's the business we live in," he said. "The more you can do, the more you stay on the field, so I'm definitely not against it. I control what I can control and let the rest handle itself.

"What I can control is being healthy, and that's what I'm trying to do right now."

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