When Tom Coughlin came to the realization the Jaguars' initial run was over and it was time to rebuild, he began that reconstruction by selecting Marcus Stroud with the 13th overall pick of the 2001 draft. Two years later, Coughlin was gone and Jack Del Rio was hired to finish the rebuilding job, and Stroud was the cornerstone of Del Rio's efforts. Now, the Jaguars have the number two defense in the league and a team considered to be a Super Bowl contender, and it's Stroud who's facing a personal reconstruction of sorts.
Stroud, the Jaguars' first Pro-Bowler in the Del Rio era and the rock on which the current defense is built, is at a crossroads in his career. He's coming off a serious surgical procedure that is demanding greater dedication to his football career than ever before.
Where is Stroud in his quest to recover from offseason ankle surgery?
"A real good indication is that he's been out here since the start of camp with no setbacks," Del Rio said.
In Wednesday afternoon's practice, there was an even more promising indication of where Stroud is in his recovery: On a fourth-down play that capped a two-minute drill by the offense, Stroud shot across the line and leaped into the air to block a Josh Scobee field-goal attempt.
You want good news from training camp? Well, there's good news; maybe the best news the Jaguars have had in this camp to date.
That's not to say Stroud is all the way back because even Stroud warned that he's got more ground to cover, but his singular leap into the air on Wednesday afternoon was the start of something the Jaguars hope will culminate with Stroud playing like his old self.
In practice the week of last year's season-opener, Stroud sustained a major ankle injury that made him a one-day-a-week player the rest of the year. The injury cost him five games last season, but even when he was in the lineup, he wasn't the same guy that dominated blockers in previous years. For all intents and purposes, Stroud was playing on one leg.
"I'm not quite back to 100 percent," Stroud said following Wednesday's practice. "I'm getting there. I still have some things to fine tune. That's what camp is for. My ankle feels fine. It's just a matter of shaking off the rust. I'm definitely not satisfied. I have high expectations for myself."
Following the season, Stroud underwent a surgical procedure known as a microfracture. Former Jaguars Kevin Hardy and Tony Brackens had undergone microfractures, though on knees, not ankles.
"I had a hole on the inside in the cartilage so they did a microfracture. It's structurally sound so it's just a matter of getting it strong," Stroud said.
Strengthening his knee and reclaiming his physical dominance is something to which Stroud dedicated himself this past offseason. All of a sudden, football didn't come so easy for him.
"He committed to that the whole offseason. He's working. His body is working. His mind is working," Del Rio said.
"We're tired of being there and falling short," Stroud said, referring to the Jaguars' quest of a championship. "Our heads are in a little different place right now. I think this team is more mature. I was one of the guys that, when it was time to go home, I went home."
These days, when it's time to go home, Stroud stays for a little more treatment and a little more conditioning.
"All the great teams say they do it. I just decided, hey, let's try it this way and it's caught on. It's trickling down. I think that little edge will push us over the top," Stroud said.
Meanwhile, center Brad Meester had surgery on the ankle he fractured in Monday evening's practice. Del Rio said the surgery went as planned and "we expect him back in October."
Wednesday's practice concluded with a goal-line drill and the defense dominated, though the drill began with Byron Leftwich throwing a swing-pass touchdown to Greg Jones, and a perfectly-thrown pass by David Garrard that should've resulted in a touchdown was dropped by tight end Richard Angulo.