Mike Walker's path to a starting job is clear and maybe, finally, fate will be his friend.
Walker's first two years in professional football were his personal version of hard times. His woes began soon after the Jaguars made him a third-round pick in the 2007 draft. Walker tore cartilage in spring drills and it caused him to spend his rookie season on the injured reserve list and to undergo a form of microfracture surgery in October of that year.
He was back to health and making a move on playing time early last season when he sustained an injury to his "good" knee in the final moments of the Jaguars' loss to the Steelers. It was considered to be a mild sprain, but then the knee and just about everything else in Walker's life worsened.
A few days after enjoying his best game as a pro, Walker was found to have contracted a staph infection in the knee, which hospitalized him for four days and caused him to miss the next four games.
Yet, circumstances would worsen.
Just two weeks after making his first career start, Walker learned his best friend was stabbed to death in an Orlando nightclub. A little more than a week later, on the day of his best friend's funeral, Walker's father died following a two-year battle with colon cancer.
"The injuries were frustration. The deaths were depression. My dad and my best friend were so close to me. My dad was the first person I called when I got in an argument with a family member. My best friend lived with me. We played midget football together, high school, everything. I was in a state of depression. It's hard sitting in a meeting because you're thinking of stuff. It's hard to focus," Walker said as he reflected on the saddest season of his life.
He ended up catching 16 passes for 217 yards and gave reason to believe he can fulfill the promise he's flashed in practice, but the 2008 season is one Walker would like to forget but never will. All he can do is hope for better days ahead.
"I can't be more ready than I am right now. It's all up to me now. I have no excuses. It's all in my hands. I've always been taught to take advantage of an advantage," Walker said.
The advantage of which Walker is speaking is the opening at wide receiver that has been caused by a mass exodus at the position so far this offseason. Jerry Porter was unceremoniously cut, Reggie Williams was allowed to leave in free agency and Matt Jones was released on Monday, just two days after he was released from an Arkansas jail.
If the season was to begin today, Walker and Dennis Northcutt would likely be the Jaguars' starting wide receivers.
"There is not one injury I have and there is not one issue. I can play freely," Walker said.
Can he be the receiver the Jaguars desperately need? Can he still be the star pass-catcher Walker has been on occasion on the practice field? More importantly, will he be each of those two guys?
"I don't wanna say any numbers but I see a coming-out show. I see me and David (Garrard) being a great combination. I see big things for us. The path is paved for me. It's time to work. I'm going to be here until training camp starts," Walker said prior to a workout at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Tuesday.
Consensus of opinion is the Jaguars need to sign a veteran receiver of some renown. Walker agrees and would welcome such an addition.
"It would help me out, it would help the receiving corps out and it would help the Jaguars out. A guy like a Marvin Harrison or a Torry Holt, who's been to the Pro Bowl and the big game, can teach me how to prepare myself in training camp and in the film room. Holt's a great player. I'm still learning the game. I wouldn't mind modeling myself after someone like Holt," Walker said.
He was in the weight room on Monday when the news began to circulate that Jones had been cut, and there were reports of an anxious feeling inside the players' area following the news about Jones. Make no mistake, the message of the dawn of a new day has been sent.
"What's going on is cleanup. Any kind of negativity; they're trying to clean up everything. They're trying to make sure that whoever is on board is on board. We're just jumping on board with those guys and we have their back 100 percent," Walker said.