He's ready for this. Really, really ready.
That's not new for Rashad Jennings. The Jaguars' backup running back approaches life and football in pretty much a perpetual state of readiness, but as he takes advantage of the opportunity presented him this month, he said he may be a just a bit more ready than normal.
He's focused. He's working. And when he talks about where he is in his NFL career, and where he wants to go, the energy is . . .
Well, more than a year after his last regular-season game, there is certainly energy.
"I've got a lot bottled up – let's just put it like that," he said.
That's where Jennings is this week. The Jaguars completed the first week of organized team activities at EverBank Field, and as they conduct voluntary practices and meetings, Maurice Jones-Drew – a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the NFL's leading rusher a year ago – is somewhere else. Because of that, Jennings is working with the first team, trying to ensure the views of a new coaching staff align with how he sees his situation:
That he is a capable backup, and more than that, he is capable of making an impact. He showed as much late in 2010, but missed last season with a knee injury, and he knows this is a league in which you keep preparing, keep showing.
"If opportunity presents itself, it's too late to prepare for it," he said. "That's something I live by, so each day I'm getting ready for my name to be called."
In the NFL, opportunity often is about coaching. That made this offseason key to many Jaguars players, but Jennings said he immediately liked what he heard not only from new head coach Mike Mularkey, but the entire offensive staff.
"The thing they really harp on is you can't let somebody define you, because if you do, they will," he said.
Jennings said on that front, he always has been about defining himself. A seventh-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, he defined himself quickly as having potential. Late in the 2010 season, he defined himself as a player who could perform, rushing for more than 100 yards twice in the final four games.
"He's a tremendous back," Jaguars center Brad Meester said. "He hasn't gotten a ton of carries with MoJo around, but we have extreme confidence when he's back there. He does a great job reading the holes, so there's extreme confidence, and he does a great job."
Jennings said he was ready to keep defining himself last season, but sustained a medial collateral ligament injury, and missed the entire season. He said he was fully healthy midway through last season, and that the injury is not an issue as he goes through OTAs.
The issue now? Preparing for the season, the next opportunity. He said he and Jones-Drew spoke recently, and believe the backs as a group have a chance for a special season. He also said while he is working no different this month than always, a chance to work with the first unit "obviously doesn't hurt."
"This is all preparation," he said. "It doesn't matter who's on the field, you're working on your craft. Obviously if you don't have as many backs, you get more opportunities to work on your craft. Being out here with the ones, it gets you fluid. It gets you used to hearing the starting quarterback. It all helps."
Just what is his level of focus? How determined is he to take advantage of this opportunity? Standing near the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Field this week, he pointed to his head, and made a circle.
"I'm in a zone up here," he said, adding, "I'm filled up mentally, spiritually, emotionally. All athletes stay in a zone where they go through difference phases. This is a phase of preparation."
Jones-Drew's absence from OTAs, he said, is a "blessing in disguise," and Jennings said while he always prepares with intensity, these weeks are important.
"I get better every single year," he said. "This isn't going to be any different, but this is huge. I get to reintroduce myself to this coaching staff. I get to reintroduce myself to the NFL. I'm fresh, healthy. It should mean something to a man to come out here and perform, regardless of who's watching, but of course, you want to put your best foot forward for a new coaching staff."
Next will come training camp, and soon thereafter if all goes according to plan he will have the role he envisions – and a chance to play in a regular-season game for the first time in a long, long time. And if his energy and state of readiness is a little higher than usual, he said that's just how it's going to be.
"I've got to calm down just thinking about it," he said. "It's there. If you see me out there on Sundays crying, running the ball, you know why."