It was the first and only surgery in his 14-year career. Hardy Nickerson, who has always been one of the best-conditioned players in the league, believes he is nearing the point of full recovery and is intent on "showing people I can still get the job done," he said.
Nickerson's knee surgery in November of last season ended a frustrating season that was also compromised by a hamstring injury in the fourth game of the season. Now, as he prepares himself for his 15th NFL season, he knows time is running out in his pursuit of a Super Bowl.
"I may only play two more seasons. That's kind of the stopping point," he said, referring to the limits of his contract with the Jaguars.
As the offseason turned into June, Nickerson considered his knee to be 90 percent recovered, and he was most satisfied with that progress because it wasn't until February that he was able to put his full weight on it. With training camp less than two months away, he was encouraged by his prospects of being the player the Jaguars had signed in free agency a year ago.
"Everybody has to have a strong desire to be the best football player they can be. We're going to have a lot of young guys, but our focus is to show people what we're all about. With all of the injuries we had last year, it was very difficult to put the team we knew we had on the field," he said.
The Jaguars' hopes this season rest with keeping their veteran core players, such as Nickerson, injury-free. His value to this team can't be overrated, especially considering the uncertainty of Kevin Hardy's future. The Jaguars would like to believe they can carry Hardy on their salary cap, but no one can know for sure.
Where will Nickerson play? Will he be the middle linebacker for which he was signed? Or will he have to move to weakside, to accommodate T.J. Slaughter and the Jaguars' need to put their best trio of linebackers on the field at the same time.
"I don't care. I'm a football player. I had played (weakside) before. I'm suited for any of those positions," Nickerson said.
His focus is on having the kind of injury-free and productive season for which he had established a sound reputation while with the Steelers and Bucs. He wants to prove he was a worthy addition to the Jaguars; that he can be the impact player the Jaguars sought for their defense.
"I know what I have in front of me. I've looked at other guys' careers. Believe me, I'd like to put a pretty big stamp on (my career). My intent in coming here was to win a championship," he said.
Fifteen-year veterans coming off a knee injury are usually dismissed by fans and media. Players who will turn 36 before the next season begins aren't expected to recover fully from their hurts, but no one has worked harder in the offseason conditioning program than Nickerson.
"I don't think I'm at a point that people can write me off. I still have some good football left in me. There comes a time when you realize you can't do it any more. I don't think I've reached that point yet," Nickerson said.
Four knee procedures were executed in Nickerson's surgery last season. Though it cost him the balance of the season, it left him with an early start to his rehabilitation.
"I critique myself. When I see I can't get it done, that's when I'll say goodbye. Prior to getting hurt, I thought I was living up to expectations," Nickerson said.
His expectations this season are to return to his old form, when Nickerson was a tackling machine at Tampa.
"That's a key ingredient to having a good football team; having a bunch of guys focusing on what they have to do to have a good year. If every guy improves his game one percent, we'll be a much better team than we were last year," he said.
Nickerson plans to do his part.
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.