Will Middleton said without question the last few weeks have been difficult.
Middleton, one of 25 Jaguars currently on injured reserve and one of 10 defensive backs on the season-ending list, said it's tough enough to be unable to finish a season, and tougher still missing time when you feel your teammates could use your help.
Middleton said one thing has made this time a bit easier:
Those teammates? They're still fighting, and as a result, the Jaguars' defense has a chance to attain its goal of finishing as one of the NFL's best defenses.
"You do take pride in what you do," Middleton said as the Jaguars (4-11) prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (2-13) at EverBank Field in downtown Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
"What we do is a craft. I take pride in my work individually and I think everybody in the defensive back room does, and everybody on the defensive side of the ball does. The whole team does. That's why there hasn't been too much of a drop-off even with the injuries."
The Jaguars, who set a preseason goal of being a Top-10 defense, have maintained that ranking much of the year. Despite the injuries, they enter the final game of the season ranked No. 5 in the NFL total defense at 314 yards a game.
The Jaguars were 28th defensively last season.
"We take pride in that," Middleton said. "Absolutely, for sure."
Linebacker Clint Session, placed on injured reserve in late November following his second concussion of the season, said Thursday was the first time he has seen his teammates since being placed on IR. He shook hands and joked with several players upon returning to the locker room Thursday.
"It was a big lift, definitely, to see the guys look at you with open arms," Session said. "When you've been away from the guys so long, for them to look at you and say, 'Man, we miss having you around the team,' it's great."
Session, too, said watching the defense play without him hasn't been easy.
"I wanted to be out there fighting with my guys," Session said. "If you look at every one of those games, they're all fighting. They're fighting every single game. It definitely hurts not to be out there with them, but I definitely needed a rest and appreciated the rest."
Included in the 25 Jaguars players on injured reserve are 18 defensive players, including Middleton and starting cornerbacks Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox.
"It was weird, to say the least, to see the amount of injuries we had in the secondary," Middleton said. "A lot of younger guys did step up and play key starting roles, and they performed admirably.
"I was looking forward to getting more opportunities, and then to have this happen, it hurt. It's been real tough, especially just to sit at home and take those losses on the chin, knowing you want to be out there and seeing plays you know you can make."
Also around the Jaguars Thursday:
*Defensive end Matt Roth said he hopes to return to the Jaguars next season. He missed the last six games of the season with a concussion, and was placed on injured reserve early this week. Roth signed a one-year contract before the season. "I'd love to come back," Roth said. "I love the town of Jacksonville, and I loved what we were doing on defense this year. If I could come back and fill a role, I'd be all for it." Roth started nine games with 3.5 sacks this season. "I felt like those last couple of games I was really catching on to what they wanted me to do," Roth said.
*Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew missed practice for a second consecutive day with an ankle injury. He has had the ankle rolled in the last two games, returning each time to play the rest of the game. He is expected to start against the Colts.
*Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (not injury related), fullback Greg Jones (hamstring) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (hamstring) each returned to full-participation status after working limited Wednesday. Cornerback Kevin Rutland practiced full with a calf injury for a second consecutive day.
*Safety Dwight Lowery (shoulder) worked limited for a second consecutive day, as did offensive tackle Guy Whimper (knee). Tight end Zach Potter (calf) and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (ankle) were added to the injury report as limited.
*Safety Dawan Landry missed practiced with an illness and rookie wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) did not practice after being limited Wednesday.
*Session said he plans to continue resting in the short term, and that he plans to play next season. "I'm just trying to get 100 percent," Session said. "With injuries, you kind of have to take them one day at a time. With head injuries, you have to be more precise with those. You want to try to keep the symptoms away as long as possible."
*Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter on Thursday discussed the play this season of Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the NFL in rushing by 128 yards entering the regular-season finale. Koetter noted that with Jones-Drew coming off knee surgery in the off-season, the Jaguars began the season trying to limit Jones-Drew's carries somewhat. Jones-Drew this season has carried a career-high 318 times. "Maurice has had an unbelievable year," Koetter said. "If you think back to that first game, Coach Del Rio was thinking long-term about saving Maurice for the long haul. Maurice has definitely had a chip on his shoulder about proving he can carry the load every game. He has just had a tremendous year and it's a testament to the guys up front who have been helping him."