It had been 354 days.
A few days short of a year since Jalen Mills took his white No. 31 practice jersey off the hanger, donned shoulder pads, put on his helmet and played football.
Imagine not being able to do what you love for a year?
On Wednesday, for the first time since the Eagles-Jaguars game in London last October, Mills was out there on the field with his teammates. It was only a practice and not a game — yet — but it was a huge step for the fourth-year cornerback.
It was hard, for sure,” Mills said. “I’ve played this game all my life, I’ve never had this long an injury when I’m off the field. It was hard. I was out there [at practice], high-fiving everybody, trying to bring the energy.
Mills left the Jaguars game at Wembley with a sore foot that didn't seem like a huge deal at the time.
But he missed the rest of the season, rehabbed all offseason, spent the last month and a half on the PUP list, and on Wednesday he was finally eligible to practice.
Mills has never shared what the nature of the injury was. It really doesn't matter anymore.
Went good,” he said. “It’s the first day of school. Couple things I’ve got to sharpen up on, did a little bit after practice with Jenks (Malcolm Jenkins) and Coach (Cory) Undlin, but felt good. … I don’t feel any [pain]. I’m excited as hell.
The Eagles have a 21-day window starting Wednesday during which they can either shut him down for the year or activate him onto the 53-man roster.
Mills made it clear what his perference is.
I’m aiming for Sunday,” he said. “It’s Coach’s call if I’m playing and how much I’m playing, but my mindset is always that I’m going to play. … At this point right now the mindset is playing the whole game.
That’s not going to happen. Even if Mills is activated and plays Sunday in Dallas, he’s not going to play a ton of snaps.
But he can help.
He hasn’t been totally healthy since the Super Bowl season or early last year — he won’t say — but when he’s on he’s a very good red-zone corner and considering the Eagles’ cornerback play of late, it can’t hurt getting him on the field ASAP.
Just being an addition to the secondary, being the competitor I am, knowing that I feel like I can make certain plays out there to help this team win, to help the secondary play better
Mills said he’s been running regularly with strength and conditioning coach Josh Hingst, and he said his conditioning was fine during practice.
But he knows there’s no way to prepare for football without playing football.
There’s no simulation for it,” he said. “You just gotta go out there and do it. You can run as many 110s, as many sprints as you want. At the end of the day, football conditioning’s football conditioning.
After playing 42 of a possible 43 games from the start of his rookie year through last October, he’s missed 16 games in a row.
Mills said the most challenging part of the last year has been game day, which he usually spends “screaming and shouting at the TV.”
That’s exactly the same thing most Eagles fans have been doing lately while watching the Eagles’ cornerbacks.
How much help Mills can provide remains to be seen. But for this team? Right now?
Having a healthy, confident veteran who started on a Super Bowl team can only be a positive.
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