Hopes ran high following the Jaguars' first morning practice of training camp.
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith was in uniform and on the field, though his participation was limited by his recovery from triple surgery this past spring.
Middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson and strong safety Carnell Lake were at full speed, which was good news for a defense that struggled without them last season.
Other Jaguars players attempting comebacks from surgeries, such as guard Zach Wiegert, tight end Damon Jones, tackle Mark Baniewicz and safety Erik Olson, were also limited in their work, but this was a practice about players on the mend, as opposed to last year's first morning practice. Then, the Jaguars lost tackle Leon Searcy for the season to a torn quadriceps.
"I didn't expect to be this far this soon. I feel like I'm well ahead of where I should be," Smith said.
That was the best news of all, because Smith's recovery is at the heart of whatever hope the Jaguars have of returning to their familiar role of playoff contender, following a 7-9 season that produced the worst record since the team's inaugural season in 1995.
"If I'm out of the lineup, people are going to put eight men at the line of scrimmage to stop Fred (Taylor). I've got to be in the lineup for the team," Smith added.
The star wide receiver is recovering from abdominal surgery that removed a section of his lower intestine. Though he'll be limited in his participation in this training camp, it was difficult to see any particular flaw in Smith's movement, other than he appeared to be careful in bending to catch low balls.
"Mentally, I think I'm there, but I'm not. It's hard to say when I can return, because I don't know," he said. "Coming back from that injury will define who Jimmy Smith is."
Of course, this is the second time in his career that he's had to make a comeback from major abdominal surgery. He resurrected his career with the Jaguars in '95, after seemingly having lost his career to an appendectomy and its complications while with the Dallas Cowboys in 1993.
Nickerson is in a comeback from surgery last November that was more invasive than expected. It ended his season and left him on crutches into the winter months, but Nickerson says he's almost fully recovered.
"I'm not 100 percent, but I'm very, very close to it. I haven't put pads on, yet. I've done everything but run through somebody," he said.
With Nickerson at full speed, the Jaguars will be able to groom second-year man T.J. Slaughter to play weak side linebacker and move veteran Kevin Hardy to the strong side. Those moves may provide for the best trio of linebackers in Jaguars history.
Lake returns following a season that came to an end in last year's training camp, when a chronic foot injury made it impossible for Lake to continue. Lake underwent radical surgery and intense rehabilitation, and he pronounced himself fully recovered today.
"I've tested it pretty good and it's held out well. How it holds out in the future, I don't know, but so far, so good," Lake said.
Meanwhile, veteran center/guard John Wade, who underwent foot surgery in late June, was on crutches for this morning's practice. Clearly, Wade's season is in doubt. Wade was the only Jaguars player unable to participate in practice in some form.
Wiegert, Jones, Baniewicz and Olson are all recovering from knee surgeries.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.