From where he stands now, Rashad Jennings couldn't be happier.
The Jaguars' reserve running back said he is well-rested, and he said that not only means physically, but mentally and spiritually – any way possible, really.
And while Jennings said he didn't like being put on injured reserve before last season – and while he said the decision angered him and even brought tears – he said that is behind him now, and what is in front of him is next season and his future.
As far as Jennings sees it, that's reason enough to be happy.
"I am beyond great," Jennings, a seventh-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2009 NFL Draft, said recently. "I'm beyond excited."
Jennings, after a strong finish to the 2010 season, entered last year's training camp with high aspirations. Many expected he would get more carries as the Jaguars tried to give starter Maurice Jones-Drew more rest than he had in the past.
Those plans changed in the third game of the preseason. Jennings in that game sustained a knee injury, and on September 3 – eight days before the regular-season opener – he was placed on injured reserve.
Jennings said it wasn't an easy time. He said he strongly disagreed with the decision, told Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith as much and said he was hurt and angry when it happened.
"I sat in Gene Smith's office and we talked about it for 45 minutes," Jennings said. "I fought as much as I could. I begged and pleaded and I cried. Most guys wouldn't say that, because they're like, 'I've got to be a man.' Call me what you want: this is what I love to do. I was discouraged and down. I had my two weeks of sorrow and not knowing what to do, then after that I realized how much of a blessing it was.
"I've been training and able to work on my game a lot more."
Jennings said while he believes he could have played by Week 5, with the benefit of perspective he now sees the decision slightly differently.
"It was the best decision for the team at the time," he said. "I wish it wouldn't have happened, but I'm so glad it did. I got a chance to take off the football goggles for a little bit, and got to see the game through the eyes of a fan, as an athlete aspiring to play in the NFL, and got to see it like I was a coach, and an owner."
Unable to play, Jennings said he used the time to improve. He said that included watching tape – a lot of it – and not only of himself, but of other backs around the NFL.
One objective now, he said, is to return to pre-injury form. But he said more than that is to continue the improvement he showed at the end of his second season, improvement that had been hard-earned.
Playing behind Jones-Drew, Jennings played sparingly as a rookie, rushing 39 times for 202 yards and a touchdown in 15 games. But in 2009, his opportunities increased, and in a November victory over the New York Giants, something happened that hadn't happened in his NFL career. He got back-to-back carries.
On the first, he rushed for 19 yards. On the second, he scored a five-yard touchdown.
"In college, you get handoffs left and right," Jennings said. "In the NFL, being behind a Pro Bowl running back, your chances are slim. I finally got two in a row. And that's when I was like, 'OK, we're moving now. I'm getting into a zone and being that running back.' "
He said that feeling continued late in the season. He rushed for 109 yards on five carries in a December 12 victory over Oakland, and after a late-season injury to Jones-Drew, Jennings started the final two regular-season games.
He rushed for 108 yards on a career-high 22 carries in the regular-season finale against Houston, and in the off-season that followed, he said anticipated being key to the offense.
Jennings said his task now is to continue preparing for next season. He said his injury was nowhere near career-threatening, that it was close in nature to that sustained by running back Montell Owens early in the season. Owens returned and made the Pro Bowl, one more reason Jennings said as he waits for the off-season program to begin he does so as excited – beyond excited, actually – as he can imagine.
"I have a lot of built-up energy," he said. "I want to prove myself again and reintroduce myself to the NFL. That's one of the things I'm so excited about, because there hasn't been one year of my life as a football player when I have not gotten better.
"Last year, I had the most humble confidence that a running back needs. I'm excited to be even better than I was going into the season last year."