JACKSONVILLE – This wasn't how Geno Hayes wanted to finish the season.
But injuries are injuries, and when they get too severe even the toughest player can't play through them. And to hear Jaguars players and coaches tell it, when it comes to toughness . . .
Well, Hayes is very much that.
"I have high admiration for this guy's toughness," linebackers coach Mark Duffner said Thursday as the Jaguars (4-11) prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) in the 2013 regular-season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Hayes, a sixth-year veteran who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent last offseason, started the first 14 games of the season at outside linebacker. He missed last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans, and Head Coach Gus Bradley said Thursday he won't play against the Colts.
"It's hard, but it's a smart decision to take care of the body and get ready to start the offseason," Hayes said. "When the body says you can't do it, you've got to go with the body, but it's tough not being out there with my guys. Right now, I really think this is the best decision."
Hayes played through the knee injury much of the season, but the issue grew worse until he couldn't play against Tennessee. He left the previous week's loss to Buffalo twice, returning each time.
Bradley said Hayes worked to test the injury this week, but couldn't move at the speed needed to play.
"He has fought through a lot, especially the last several weeks," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said Thursday. "You see him give everything he has on Sunday, then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday he's hurting, but you know you can count on him Sunday again.
"He'd get nicked and go out and come back in. It says a lot about his toughness and his personality that he was able to handle that situation. Some guys would say, 'Shut me down.' Not him."
Hayes likely will finish third on the team with 78 tackles this season, registering two interceptions, three passes defensed, two tackles for losses and two quarterback pressures. He excelled in pass coverage, finishing the season as the No. 7-rated linebacker against the pass according to Pro Football Focus.
Hayes said he expects to undergo surgery quickly, and that he expects a relatively short rehabilitation process. He said there is no ligament damage, and that surgery will clear up cartilage and other debris. He said while the pain varied this season, it was around an 8.5 or 9 on a scale of 1-to-10 by season's end.
"He refused to come out of the lineup, but he was hurt all the way through," Duffner said. "The toughness he displayed and the commitment was terrific. I'm moved by the commitment to play he showed during that time period."
Hayes is the second defensive player this week to be shut down for the season after playing through injuries much of the season. Defensive tackle Roy Miller played through a shoulder injury much of the season before missing Sunday's loss to Tennessee and being placed on injured reserve early this week.
"These are veteran guys who wanted to play even though the chances of the playoffs were small; they wanted to play and compete," Posluszny said. "That says a lot about them and it says a lot about the culture Coach Bradley is building. These guys will do anything for Coach Bradley."
Also around the Jaguars Thursday:
*The Jaguars returned to practice after not working Christmas. The team held a walkthrough-style, non-padded practice Tuesday and worked in helmets Thursday. "I felt we needed to do that after yesterday's break," Bradley said. "The intensity was good and guys were competing throughout practice."…
*Offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield missed practice for a second time this week, but Bradley said the goal remains for the third-year veteran to practice Friday and play Sunday. "We feel good about Cam's chances on Sunday," Bradley said….
*Like Hayes, cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle) has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Bradley said neither Hayes nor Gratz will be placed on injured reserve…
*The following players practiced limited and are expected to play Sunday: running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring), cornerback Alan Ball (ankle/shoulder), safety Johnathan Cyprien (thigh/foot), safety Josh Evans (shoulder), defensive tackle Jordan Miller (shoulder) and Posluszny (groin). Wide receiver Ace Sanders (finger) practiced full after being limited Tuesday….
*If Jones-Drew is able to play, running back Jordan Todman could return to his role on kick returns. Todman has returned 24 kicks for a 27.6-yard average this season, but moved off kickoff returns with Jones-Drew unavailable two weeks ago and uncertain last week….
*Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch met with the media on the final Thursday of the season, saying that from his view the team offense has improved most significantly in the red zone and in the running game. The Jaguars rushed for more than 100 yards in four consecutive games in the second half of the season after not doing so in the first 10 games of the season, but Fisch said efficiency in the red zone has been the biggest improvement. "I think 65 percent of the time we scored touchdowns in there since the bye week, which puts you top ten in the league if you do that," Fisch said. The Jaguars have scored touchdowns on 13 of 20 red-zone possession since the Week 9 bye. They scored touchdowns on five of 19 red-zone possessions in Weeks 1-8….