The past, as Will Rackley sees it, is now past. At last.
But Rackley, the Jaguars' third-year veteran offensive guard, said however trying the last year may have been – and he said it was at times equal parts difficult, long and frustrating – what he endured should benefit him.
That wouldn't at all mean he would want to redo the past year.
But it means he's looking forward to the next one.
"It's a frustrating process, but I'm feeling good now," Rackley said recently.
Rackley, a third-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2011 NFL Draft, missed this past season with an ankle injury sustained on the fourth day of training camp. That was frustrating enough, and he said more difficult was a rehabilitation process that took the entire season.
That meant he not only missed his second NFL season – a season for which he had prepared harder and better than he had prepared for any season in his football career – it meant having to watch while the Jaguars' offensive line as a whole struggled when compared to the previous season.
Rackley's injury was just one at the left guard position, and by season's end, Eben Britton, Mike Brewster, Herb Taylor and Austin Pastzor had played at the spot.
Partly as a result of the uncertainty at left guard spot, the line struggled, allowing 51 sacks and being part of a running offense that finished 30th in the NFL.
"I definitely wanted to go out and help the team and get in position to win some games," Rackley said. "I'd like to think I could have helped, but it stunk having to watch every home game."
Rackley did more than just go to the home games. Under then Head Coach Mike Mularkey, many of the players on injured reserve spent the season around the team in a similar capacity to the healthy players. Rackley attended meetings and film sessions as he would have had he been healthy, with the main difference between he and active players that he was rehabbing and not practicing.
"We literally did everything but practice," Rackley said. "We would go to meetings, participate in meetings, and watch game tape. A lot of guys compared it to redshirting in college. It's strange, knowing that you have to prepare, but you can't help physically."
That part? Being around the team but not being able to play? Rackley, like most NFL players who spend time on injured reserve, said that was the difficult part, particularly after he spent last offseason preparing for what he believed would be a second season in which he took a significant step forward.
Rackley, who started 14 games as a rookie, said he gained confidence from that season, and also believed he would benefit from a full offseason of conditioning and preparation. Rackley missed any such opportunity the previous offseason because of the NFL lockout.
Instead, four days into training camp, he sustained an ankle injury. Eight days before the regular-season opener, as the Jaguars trimmed their roster to the regular-season limit, he was placed on injured reserve, a move that ended his 2012 season.
"That was hard," he said. "That was literally the hardest I've worked going into a season, and to have that literally taken away in the fourth practice was frustrating. I had a lot of support. That kept me going and motivated me even more."
The good part, for Rackley, is that at this point it appears the process was worth it. He was cleared for full-speed football work recently, and he said that means he'll be ready for organized team activities, minicamp and anything else necessary this offseason.
Not only is he ready, he said all indications are the ankle will be stronger than before.
"I'm not worried about it at all," Rackley said. "Luckily, it was just an ankle. It wasn't an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) where I couldn't do anything for a year. Mine was, 'Stay off for three weeks, then gradually get back into it.'''
The result is that Rackley expects to be at his best entering what he knows will be an important offseason. That's true of the line as a whole, which will work under a new coach for the first time since 2005. Andy Heck, the line coach since 2006 and the assistant line coach for two seasons before that, left to take the same position in Kansas City, while new Head Coach Gus Bradley hired George Yarno as offensive line coach.
Whoever the coach, Rackley said the linemen know improvement must be made this season.
"I don't think guys have given up or thought, 'Man, we're 2-14, we're going to be mediocre,'' he said. "We're all still pretty close. We talk all the time and we motivate each other."
And because of the newness of the situation, Rackley said beyond the need for improvement as a group, the off-season is key for him personally – and for just about any individual player on the roster.
"I have to make sure I'm at my best," Rackley said, adding of Yarno, "He's not going to know us as people. He'll know us a little bit watching film, but all he can see is my rookie season and OTAs (last offseason). I have to make sure I'm coming out and at my best."
Not only is the line coach new, but the head coach is new, too, as is General Manager David Caldwell. In that newness is an opportunity for a fresh start – and, Rackley said, a chance to show a new group of people where he fits into the franchise's new direction.
"My whole deal right now is to make sure my ankle is 100 percent and I'm at my best physical ability," he said. "I'm even more excited and more motivated to get back to it. I know I haven't played for a year. I know I need to be on my game and be ready to play. I changed my diet, trying to get my body fat down. I'm approaching this year with a different mindset than ever before.
"It's a different situation, having new coaches virtually my whole NFL career. I just have to make sure I'm at my best, have a clean slate, and get after it."