JACKSONVILLE – Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III couldn't have been happier Sunday.
Linebacker Dekoda Watson couldn't have, either.
Yes, Shorts said he could have done without the rust he felt. And Watson said if he had has his way, this day would have come a whole lot sooner, but that wasn't what mattered most to Shorts or Watson on Sunday afternoon. What mattered was this:
After way too long without football, they practiced again.
And that was good. Really good.
"It felt good just to be back out there with the guys," Shorts said after the Jaguars worked for about two hours at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields Sunday.
"I'm just taking it day by day, step by step," Watson said.
Shorts and Watson worked two repetitions during each period Sunday, with Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley saying following practice that the idea is to bring each along slowly. Shorts had been out since the first day of training camp with a hamstring injury and Watson had been on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a groin injury.
Bradley said each could play against Detroit in the third preseason game Sunday.
"We'll see," Bradley said when asked about Watson playing against Detroit. "He's back to the mindset of how we'll treat him like the first preseason game. He'll get some reps but we'll make sure that it's not extended play."
Bradley was asked if the same was true of Shorts.
"Yes," he said, adding that though the Jaguars held Shorts back a bit in practice Sunday, "I think it's a good stride in the right direction with him."
Shorts also missed much of the team's on-field offseason work with a calf injury, and noted Sunday that he essentially hadn't practiced since the beginning of the team's offseason program.
"I'm definitely rusty," Shorts said. "So I've got to come out here, continue to work, not get frustrated and understand this is really my first practice since April or something like that. So let's not get frustrated and continue to work. I'm just excited to be out there with the guys again."
Shorts, who has caught 121 passes for 1,756 yards and 10 touchdowns the past two seasons, is the team's top returning receiver, and a player expected to be a leader on a young receiving corps that will also feature rookies Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson.
While he has missed much of the lead-up to the regular season, Shorts said whatever reps he gets against Detroit Friday coupled with time in the preseason finale against Atlanta should be enough to be ready for the September 7 preseason opener at Philadelphia.
"As time goes on and I get more reps and more reps, I should be fine," he said. "The goal is to be able to be 100 percent – everything's fine – by Week One. … There's more than enough time - probably perfect time actually, so I feel confident about that."
Shorts said whatever else is on his mind as he works toward that goal, he won't be focused on avoiding another setback.
"You can't think about getting injured when you're playing ball," he said. "You've just got to go out there and just play. I did my best to get back as fast as I could. I'm learning to how to take care of my body. I know how to take care of my body. I have to continue to do that process, add a few new things in there and you can't worry about getting hurt. Just play ball."
Watson, too, said his focus now was on the future, and Bradley said he liked how Watson ran during Sunday's workout.
"I know that he's done a good job working himself back in to it so we'll take a look at the tape but it looked like he was running around pretty good," Bradley said, adding. "I really liked the way he practiced – the few reps he had. It looked like he paid attention all during training camp.
"I don't know if he had any busts or not but it didn't appear like it watching him. So, that's good. And he adds that element of speed."
The Jaguars held practice open to Guest Service Team Members on Sunday.
Watson hadn't practiced since signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason. The Jaguars had developed the Otto linebacker position in the offseason with Watson in mind, but second-year veteran LaRoy Reynolds has played well in Watson's absence and is listed ahead of Watson on the unofficial depth chart.
"I think initially when we brought him in here we thought he'd have a chance to be that guy (the starting Otto linebacker)," Bradley said. "So, I think right now we're just seeing each day how he progresses and then just let him run the course and see what happens.
"LaRoy played a lot better the second game and did a nice job. That's what he (Watson) is coming in to now."
WR @cecilshortsiii keeps both feet in bounds to complete the catch at #Jaguars practice. https://t.co/qtGcJRBzXe — Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) August 17, 2014
Watson had one of the highlight plays of practice Sunday, making a diving deflection off a short pass from rookie Blake Bortles in a seven-on-seven red-zone drill. It was a play he made without pain in a practice in which he said he felt the same way throughout, and after a long rehabilitation process, he said that made Sunday a good day.
"If they had gone by what I said, I would have been back out there three weeks ago," Watson said with a laugh. "They knew better than I did and I'm glad I listened. I had to put my pride aside and make sure I listened to everything they had to say.
"Being able to break and not feel any pain … it's a beautiful thing. I'm glad I listened, and I just want to continue to get better, continue to be in the film room and build on this progress."