Stroud healthy again, hop­ing to re­turn to Pro Bowl form for Jags

First-round pick from Ge­or­gia is giv­ing the ef­fort

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Mark Long

JACK­SONVILLE, Fla. — Mar­cus Stroud jumped out of his stance, lifted his 310-pound body well off the ground, ex­tended his long arms and blocked a field goal at­tempt dur­ing prac­tice.

The for­mer first-round pick from Ge­or­gia then strut­ted off the field and body-bumped team­mate Rashean Mathis.

In­deed, there was cause for cel­e­bra­tion for the Jack­sonville Jaguars.

Not only was it a solid fourth­down play at the end of a twominute drill dur­ingWed­nes­day’s prac­tice, but it was a sign that Stroud was re­cov­er­ing per­fectly from off­sea­son an­kle surgery and ready to re­turn to form fol­low­ing two in­jury-filled sea­sons.

“I’m get­ting there,” said Stroud, a three-time Pro Bowl starter at de­fen­sive tackle. “I’m feel­ing pretty good about what I’m do­ing so far. I’m def­i­nitely not sat­is­fied and def­i­nitely have some other things to do. I have high ex­pec­ta­tions for my­self this sea­son that I plan to reach if I can stay healthy.”

Stroud hasn’t stayed healthy in re­cent years.

Al­though he started ev­ery game in 2004 and 2005, he spent much of the time bat­tling an­kle, knee and groin in­juries. His pro­duc­tion dropped both years, and he fin­ished 2004 with 66 tack­les and one sack — his low­est to­tals since his rookie sea­son in 2001.

Stroud had hoped to re­bound in 2006, but he in­jured his right an­kle in prac­tice just be­fore the opener and wasn’t the same the rest of the way.

He missed five games, and even when he was in the lineup, he strug­gled to dom­i­nate the line of scrim­mage as he had in pre­vi­ous years. He made 34 tack­les and 2 1/2 sacks.

He un­der­went mi­crofrac­ture surgery in Jan­uary to re­pair a hole in his an­kle car­ti­lage. Stroud sat out most of the team’s off­sea­son con­di­tion­ing pro­gram while try­ing to strengthen his an­kle.

“Some days are bet­ter than oth­ers,” Stroud said. “As far as my an­kles and ev­ery­thing, I feel fine. It’s just a mat­ter of get­ting back there and shak­ing this rust off to get back into foot­ball form.”

Stroud recorded 322 tack­les and 15 1/2 sacks his first four years in the league and was the cor­ner­stone of coach Jack Del Rio’s stout de­fense.

Stroud con­cedes foot­ball was easy back then. But that changed with the in­juries, and he’s had to ad­just his approach along with them. He now spends ex­tra time re­hab- bing, ex­tra time con­di­tion­ing, ex­tra time in the weight room and ex­tra time in meet­ing and video rooms.

“It wasn’t get­ting done the old way, and if it’s not get­ting done the old way, you’ve got to try some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Stroud said. “All the great play­ers say they put in ex­tra time do­ing this, ex­tra time do­ing that. Some­thing has to be right. I just de­cided to try it this way.”

Del Rio has no­ticed a dif­fer­ence — and it showed when Stroud blocked the field goal.

“He was asked to and chal­lenged to work at it be­cause it would take all of that to get back to the kind of player that we’re count­ing on here,” Del Rio said. “He has em­braced that, com­mit­ted the en­tire off­sea­son. He very con­sis­tently, very dili­gently, worked at the con­di­tion­ing to al­low him­self to come into this sea­son and give us that big, studly, Pro Bowl de­fen­sive tackle back that we need.

“He’s work­ing. His body is work­ing. His mind is work­ing. His com­mit­ment is there — and that’s the big­gest thing.”

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