JACKSONVILLE – He practiced for the first time in a very long time.
For Marqise Lee, that made Saturday a good day.
“It’s big,” he said.
Lee, the Jaguars’ sixth-year veteran wide receiver, spoke Saturday after being removed from the physically unable to perform list and practicing for the first time in more than a year – since sustaining a knee injury that kept him out of all 16 of the Jaguars’ regular-season games last season.
How brutal was Lee’s injury against Atlanta in 2018 Preseason Week 3?
He tore not only his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but the posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments of the knee.
A torn ACL typically means rehabilitating at least nine months, sometimes longer. Adding the PCL and MCL usually extends the process, making Lee’s return to practice essentially a year after the injury remarkably quick.
Lee said Preseason Week 3 was his target for return.
“As far as my schedule goes, I’m pretty much on point,” Lee said. “I’m very excited.”
Lee, a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, caught 56 passes for 702 yards and three touchdowns in the Jaguars’ 2017 AFC South Championship season. The Jaguars in his absence missed not only Lee’s leadership and downfield blocking, but his toughness on crossing routes and his productivity on third downs.
Moving Lee from the PUP list is a step toward getting those elements back in a receiving corps that struggled in his absence last season. Lee’s next step is one many players who have returned from ACL injuries consider the toughest – trusting the rebuilt knee enough to play instinctively.
“It’s all mental at this point,” Lee said. “I feel like the physical aspect of it … I did all the rehab and all the things I need to do. Now, I just have to make sure I stay calm and take it slow. There’s no worries. I’m going to be fine as long as I manage and make sure I take care of myself.”
Lee described his approach in Saturday’s short practice inside the Dream Finders Homes Flex Field at Daily’s Place adjacent to TIAA Bank Field as “very cautious.”
“That was the main thing for me out there today, taking my time, making sure I’m warm before I start getting going,” Lee said. “It felt pretty good.”
Lee returns to a Jaguars offense with a different feel than it had the last time he played. Saturday’s practice marked Lee’s first with new starting quarterback Nick Foles, who signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason.
“I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, starting with the playbook,” Lee said, referring to first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s offense.
Lee spoke Saturday of a difficult rehabilitation process. Players who have been through an ACL rehabilitation process speak often of there being no way to know what the process is truly about until someone has experienced it. Patience is needed as setbacks intertwined with progress – and for a player anxious to return to the field, even minor setbacks seem major.
“There were a lot of crazy days,” Lee said. “Even though you’re coming for rehab and trying to get better, you go through a lot of situations with pain and things like that. There’s a lot of worrying about you being back, if you’re going to be ready and things like that.
“It was my teammates who helped me as far as staying calm, staying patient. A lot of people who had injuries, they tell me I’m going to be fine. That’s what I continued to keep in my mind and look at me: I’m great.”
Lee spoke throughout the offseason of being ready in time for the Jaguars’ Week 1 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that now is 22 days away.
“My goal is honestly to be ready,” Lee said. “I can’t speak for the doctors or the coaches, but as far as for me, I’m going to continue to take it day by day, try to improve and try to pick up my volume as far as the work load – and hopefully be out there by the time it’s time to go.”