JACKSONVILLE – Marqise Lee was smiling Friday.
This was after the first 2015 Jaguars Training Camp practice. And while Lee's smile came when speaking to the media, the notebooks and lenses weren't what caused the smile.
He was practicing – and practicing full. That was good news.
The best news for the second-year receiver was that full-practice status wasn't just a team designation. When Lee ran routes at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields Friday morning, he *felt *100 percent. He felt good. He felt right.
"I'm just coming back and going after it," Lee said early Friday afternoon.
After the May and June Lee had, that was a good feeling – and a good step for a player who matters much more to the Jaguars' offense than some observers might believe.
Lee, a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, missed the on-field portion of the Jaguars' offseason program with a knee injury. That meant while Lee was in meetings, studying tape and doing all of the things a second-year player must do, he couldn't be on the field.
It also meant Friday was his first extensive on-field work since last season.
"He did really well," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. "I think he had a brace on right away and took it off and just felt very confident. He's got some speed and he's got burst. And it jumps out at you with Marqise."
Lee indeed removed the brace early Friday in practice after consulting with Jaguars head athletic trainer Scott Trulock.
"I felt good with it off, so it won't be an issue," he said.
The issue with Lee this offseason – among observers, anyway – was just how ready Lee would be to start camp, and just how productive and reliable he can be this season. Lee struggled at times as a rookie to acclimate to the NFL, and then also missed three games with a hamstring injury. He took advantage of a late-season surge in playing time to finish with 37 receptions for 422 yards and a touchdown. He had five plays of more than 30 yards, significant big-play ability for an offense that lacked explosiveness at times last season.
But when Lee missed the offseason, it again prompted questions about his reliability.
That's the public perception.
To hear Bradley tell it, that's not at all his perception.
"I'm excited for him," Bradley said. "I know there are a lot of questions and things like that but I don't have a doubt with Marqise. I really like what I've seen in him and his approach."
That's pretty much the money quote about Lee early this training camp, because the Jaguars are excited about him. They're excited because of what he can bring to the offense, and what they need him to bring to the offense. The Jaguars have a significantly improved set of offensive skill players this season. Running back T.J. Yeldon. Tight end Julius Thomas. Each has the skill set to make defenses account for them, to draw double teams and make players around them better. Wide receiver Allen Robinson played just 10 games last season, but he has shown the potential to develop into that sort of player, too.
But none has Lee's ability to turn a short pass into a long gain, or – as importantly – turn a short pass just beyond the line of scrimmage on third-and-8 into a first down. And none has Lee's ability to beat defenders deep.
Lee showed that ability on Friday, beating cornerback Dwayne Gratz on a long pass down the right side. Lee got a yard or two clear of Gratz, and while a drop put a damper on the play, it didn't damper the notion that this is what Lee can give this offense.
And while Lee absolutely wasn't thrilled with the drop, the play showed something to him, too.
"I was quite upset that I dropped it," Lee said with a laugh. "My main focus is I can't believe I'm running. When's the last time you guys actually saw me get a chance to run and me actually get out there and run against some defense? That was my main focus.
"I got out, everything felt well, I just didn't finish. Next time I'll finish."
Lee added, "Coach (Jerry) Sullivan always says you want to catch everything, but at the end of the day we focus on making sure the route was correct, making sure I get off the press and get going, then I focus on catching the ball after."
That was pretty much the theme for Lee Friday. It wasn't the ideal practice, and yes, he was tired after his first full work since last season. But that's the short term. The long-term big picture is the work he put in to get to the point where he could go 100 percent from the start of camp has given him the opportunity to prepare properly.
The thought here is that Lee has a real chance to be a bigger part of the offense than many believe, and that writing Lee off is very, very premature.
If so, then Friday's smile is only the beginning.