Maurice Jones-Drew isn&39;t much on excuses.
Extensive public discussion of how hard he&39;s working – and what, exactly, he&39;s working through – doesn&39;t hold much interest for the Jaguars two-time Pro Bowl running back, either. But know this about Jones-Drew:
What he&39;s going through now? The work he&39;s doing to prepare for next season?
It&39;s not easy.
Then again, what he went through last season wasn&39;t, either.
"It&39;s exciting," Jones-Drew told jaguars.com recently as he continued rehabilitating from the knee injury that cost him the last two games of the 2010 season.
"It&39;s a little more adversity than I&39;m used to, but that&39;s what it&39;s going to take to get to where I want to be."
Where he wants to be is back where he was last year, and maybe a bit beyond. Because what that was was one of the NFL&39;s elite running backs.
And while Jones-Drew has been that for a while now, he did something last season he hadn&39;t had to much before: He played through adversity.
Specifically, he played through pain.
It is well-documented now that Jones-Drew produced what he did last season while playing through a knee injury that limited him in a Week 14 loss to Indianapolis, then kept him out the last two games. What is not as well-documented is exactly how much the knee bothered him throughout the season.
There&39;s a reason for that, Jones-Drew said.
"You&39;re not supposed to tell people when you&39;re hurting," he said. "We signed up for a game that&39;s a physical game. You get hurt, and it happens. I think some of the guys understood after the fact – when they saw I couldn&39;t walk after a couple of games. But sometimes you have to do what you have to go out there and help your team win games.
"That&39;s what we did. We had a lot of guys who played through a lot of injuries. It just showed the character of our team."
Jones-Drew, who will enter his sixth NFL season, rushed for 1,324 yards and five touchdowns on 299 carries this past season – that, a year after rushing for 1,399 yards and 15 touchdowns on 312 carries.
But statistics tell just part of Jones-Drew&39;s story last season. And not the best part.
Jones-Drew during a key stretch from late October through early December didn&39;t carry the Jaguars alone, but he certainly did his share. He rushed for 100 or more yards in every game, the longest such streak of his career, and in the process led a team that struggled at times early in the season to first place in the AFC South.
He started the stretch with a 27-carry, 135-yard performance in the season-turning victory at Dallas, then followed that with 100 yards rushing in the Hail Mary victory over Houston at home. He produced a career-high 220 yards of offense against Cleveland, then after rushing for 113 yards in a loss to the New York Giants, he rushed for a career-high 186 yards in a victory at Tennessee.
He finished the six-game stretch with a 101-yard game against Oakland, and his 30-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes gave the Jaguars a victory.
It turned out to be his and the Jaguars&39; final big moment of the season.
Jones-Drew, who never had missed a game because of injury in five NFL seasons, sat out the final part of the preseason with a knee injury, and by Game 14 in Indianapolis, the strain of the season had taken a toll. He missed two practices the week leading to the Colts game, and ran for just 46 yards on 15 carries.
"I don&39;t want to make excuses," he said. "I think a lot of people use injuries as excuses – why we couldn&39;t do this or why we couldn&39;t do that. That should have never been. Personally, I started off slow at the beginning of the year. I didn&39;t want to use that as an excuse as to why I wasn&39;t playing well and to why we weren&39;t winning.
"We had to work through some things and figure out what we wanted to do. Once we figured it out and got things going, we were able to play. Obviously, my knee kind of gave out at the end of the season, but that&39;s why you play the game, to fight through those adverse situations."
Jones-Drew, who has made the Pro Bowl each season since taking over as the full-time feature back after the departure of Fred Taylor, said the late-season stretch had importance beyond personal. Jaguars veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman talked at a recent Team Teal event about the need for the team to begin believing it could reach a championship level. The foundation for such belief, Jones-Drew said, may have been laid beginning in late October.
"I don&39;t like to take moral victories," Jones-Drew said. "I don&39;t think those words should even exist. What we can take out of this is we played through injuries. Even though we&39;re such a young team it taught us that when we prepare the right way and we work at it and we work hard, anything can happen. That&39;s pretty much what those six, seven games were. We wanted to win real bad and how we won was by preparing hard and doing the little things.
"That&39;s what helped us more than anything. Everybody&39;s mad we didn&39;t make the playoffs, and that&39;s always how it&39;s going to be. Our goal is to win the division. We had a chance to do it, and hopefully what we did this year allows us to bounce back and be able to do it again."
Jones-Drew said the off-season has been about learning – and again, dealing with adversity. He underwent surgery shortly after the season, and has been rehabilitating since. The process isn&39;t easy. And he said it&39;s what rehab always is – some good days, and some not quite as good as others.
"I&39;m rehabbing at a facility close to where I grew up," Jones-Drew said. "There&39;s a lady 80 years old, trying to walk with a walker. We&39;re pretty much doing the same thing. I was trying to compete with her the whole time. I was trying to do everything she was doing harder, faster."
Jones Drew added with a laugh, "She was kicking my butt. It shows I have a lot of work to do still, but it&39;s going well. It&39;s going real well."