JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Marqise Lee was sitting in the living room of the condo he owns in Las Vegas, relaxing after another rehab session, when he heard a tremendous boom from another room.
The ceiling had collapsed during a rare snowfall, dumping debris all over his bathroom. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt.
“It was crazy,” Lee said. “Crazy.”
Unfortunately, it fell right in line with the Jaguars receiver’s past eight months.
Lee was taking over the role as the team’s top receiver after signing a four-year contract extension worth up to $38 million last March, but he suffered a torn left ACL during the third preseason game against Atlanta. He underwent surgery three days later, during which he also had his PCL repaired, and missed the 2018 season.
It was a devastating moment for a player who had shaken off the "injury-prone" label early in his career to become the Jaguars’ most consistent receiver, and he said it took him a while to get over this setback. Now that he can see the start of the 2019 offseason conditioning program looming, Lee is finally able to focus on his eventual return, develop a rapport with new quarterback Nick Foles and help the team’s young receivers develop.
“First few months were hella tough -- hella,” Lee said. “Only because I never really dealt with an injury this big. I had hamstring injuries and sat out games, but nothing like this. I had never been in the situation as far as knowing how to handle it.
“It’s going well. Little bit ahead of schedule. Taking it one day at a time.”
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said earlier this week that Lee was slightly ahead of what the team expected, but he wasn’t expecting Lee to be fully cleared until late in the preseason. That means Lee will work off to the side during the offseason conditioning program and organized team activities, which could put him slightly behind the rest of the offense in picking up new coordinator John DeFilippo’s system.
When Lee catches up, Marrone said he’ll be a big part of the retooled offense.
“Here’s what I like about Marqise Lee: Every time I talk to him, he’s feeling better, he has a smile on his face, and he’s dying to get back,” Marrone said. “I think when you see players that are injured and have that type of mentality or expression, that makes you feel good as a coach. He’s excited. He’s getting ready to go. Obviously, we lost a lot last year when we lost him.
“We all know that Marqise is a guy that’ll go in there and get tough and dirty, whatever term you want to use. He did a heckuva job in our running game and really did a good job making sure everyone else in that room, the younger guys, followed suit with that. You lose that when those players aren’t around.”
The Jaguars should get a significant boost whenever Lee does return.
Dede Westbrook developed into the Jaguars’ most reliable receiver last season, leading the team in catches (66), receiving yards (616) and receiving TDs (five). But Keelan Cole was a disappointment in his second season. Cole had nearly the same number of receptions as he did as a rookie (38, just four shy of his 2017 total), but his yardage dropped significantly -- from 748 to 491 -- and he was benched after dropping five passes and losing two fumbles in October.
Second-round pick DJ Chark, whom the Jaguars graded as a first-round talent, made more of an impact on special teams than as a receiver. He caught 14 passes for 174 yards and missed five of the last six games because of a quad injury.
The Jaguars signed free agent Chris Conley earlier this month. He’s big (6-foot-3), fast (4.35 40-yard dash at the combine in 2015) and gives the Jaguars a deep threat, but he has just 104 catches in his first four seasons.
The Jaguars clearly need Lee to be an impactful player in 2019, and though he said he’s eager to get back, he isn't going to risk any setbacks.
“My thing is I understand where I want to be and what I want to do for the season, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to keep it real with the injury I’m coming back from,” said Lee, who has 171 career catches for 2,166 yards and eight TDs. “Can’t come back and try to hit it, hit it, hit it.
“... We know what we got to do as a team. The expectation is there for us to do something. My focus is getting my knee right. Just making sure I’m ready, somewhat ready when that time comes for me to play or when they clear me to play.”