Walker has been in the background ever since the Jaguars grabbed the former Central Florida receiver with a third-round pick in the 2007 college draft. He had posted impressive numbers as a senior with 94 receptions for over 1,000 yards despite having reconstructive knee surgery before the season.
That lingering health concern, more than anything, was why Walker was still available when the Jaguars snatched with a third-round pick. During the team's OTAs last year, Walker was a standout among the receivers. He had the size (6-2, 210) the team wanted and more important, he had the speed that others lacked.
But the strong showing didn't carry over when fall camp opened. Walker experienced swelling in his knee during the grueling two-a-days and even when he was restricted to a single practice a day, he wasn't at full strength. The ultimate decision was to give him a year to fully recuperate and he was placed on IR for the year.
So when Walker showed up for the 18th OTA session on this final week of the spring/summer sessions, Walker was the scrutiny of many sideline observers. He didn't disappoint, making several diving catches and then hauling in another bullet pass near the sidelines as he was falling backwards.
All of which left Walker with a good feeling about his first action in nearly a year.
"I felt pretty good out there, no problems. I didn't thing about it (the knee) at all," he said. "I've just been anxious and tired of watching.
"I thought I'd go out there rusty, dropping balls, kind of nervous. I haven't been out there in so long, I was just curious. Now I have a good picture of how I'm doing and where I'm at. I don't think I fell off too much."
A healthy Walker creates an even bigger logjam at the wide receiver spot for the Jaguars. They acquired Jerry Porter via free agency from the Oakland Raiders and used a late draft pick to pick up disgruntled Minnesota Vikings receiver Troy Williamson. Add veterans Dennis Northcutt and Reggie Williams along with former first-round draft pick Matt Jones and the speedy John Broussard, and there's seven quality receivers battling for five, possibly six spots on next year's roster.
It will be hard for Walker not to be one of the six. Should he experience more knee problems this fall, the team could throw him on IR one more season with the hope that he'll be at full strength in 2009. Assuming his health, Walker is almost a sure bet to join Porter, Northcutt and Williams as locks to make the roster. That would leave Jones, Williamson, Broussard and a couple non-roster invitees to battle for the final one or two spots.
"Before training camp, my goal is to get that endurance so I won't have to worry about that every day," he said. "My knee will be 100 percent so there wouldn't be a question if I could practice twice a day, three times a day; there wouldn't be a problem.
"I wouldn't say last year was a low point, just down. It was probably the worst that I have ever had. It was frustrating. I was tired of watching and I couldn't do anything about it. And then when we came back and had OTAs and I still wasn't practicing, it was really frustrating. The hardest thing I have ever gone through. That's why it just feels good to be out there practicing."
Mike Walker's Return to Jaguars Practice
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