Manuwai had been the rock of the team's O-line since his rookie season in 2003. He started 14 of the 15 games he played that season and then started every game the next four years before the streak ended in the season finale in 2007. His streak of 66 consecutive starts came to a halt when he dressed but like a number of other veterans, was rested in the team's final game against Houston in order to assure good health for the following week's playoff game.
That stretch of good health ended in last year's season opener at Tennessee when he suffered an ACL tear. The same game, right guard Maurice Williams suffered a biceps injury in warm-ups and both players were placed on injured reserve the following week.
Williams has returned to the lineup and Manuwai's return to the starting group gives the Jaguars their strongest front five in years. With the two regular guards out all of the 2008 season, the Jaguars were forced to insert younger players who weren't ready to be starters with their play showing as much.
Manuwai's absence was felt by the Jaguars' offense last year. He is one of the team's better blockers, is a savvy veteran in the line and at 330 pounds, could take on nose tackles or defensive tackles by himself.
The former University of Hawaii standout's weight had shot up to the 360 range when he couldn't run during his rehabilitation. But he's worked hard to get close to his normal playing weight of 330.
"Am I anxious? Yeah, but I'm not trying to force it. I don't want anything bad to happen," Manuwai said about his return. "Part of it, too, is getting your mind right for the hitting."
The six-year veteran said there's even been some good come out of his first serious injury in his career, dating back to high school. If nothing else, it enabled him to rest after starting 78 games the past five years and one game in '08.
"It was positive and negative," he said. "The negative was that I couldn't be with the team and help them win. The positive is that I got to recover my whole body. From high school and college, I was always in there playing. Finally my body could just stop and relax."
But the rest is over and now Del Rio wants (and needs) Manuwai back in the starting lineup.
"He's one of our better players. He's a strong guy, he moves people," the Jaguars coach said. "He really helps make the running game go. When you have powerful people, Xs and Os, there's a lot of good design out there.
"When (the defense has) a big guy, he kind of takes that guy that's maybe an X and supposed to be at a spot and moves him four or five yards back and it makes a little different look. That's what a big, strong dominant person can do for your team and that's what he is."
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