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Maurice Jones-Drew won't play Friday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Maurice Jones-Drew is running full speed, making sharp cuts and testing his surgically repaired knee as often as the Jacksonville Jaguars will allow during training camp.

The biggest hurdle that remains for the star running back is getting hit hard for the first time.

It might not happen until the season opener.

Coach Jack Del Rio ruled Jones-Drew out of Friday's preseason game against Atlanta, saying he wants to control Jones-Drew's contact. Jones-Drew could get a few carries in Jacksonville's third exhibition, but Del Rio wouldn't commit to any timetables.

"We have a plan," Del Rio said Monday. "He's fully compliant and understands that we've got to have a plan. We've got to execute that plan, and part of that is getting him to the season as healthy and prepared as possible. He does need to have some contact, but we'd like that contact to be controlled as long as we can. That's why he won't be playing this week."

Jones-Drew played most of last season with torn meniscus in his right knee, saying there were days when he would wake up and not be able to walk. He learned the severity of the injury during training camp -- he basically had bone scraping against bone -- but kept it hidden because he didn't want opponents taking shots at his knee.

The injury became more painful after his sixth consecutive 100-yard game, but he still tried to play at Indianapolis on Dec. 19 -- a game in which Jacksonville could have clinched the AFC South. After that, and with the team no longer in control of its postseason chances, Jones-Drew shut it down.

He was inactive the final two games, both losses. Those were the first games he'd missed because of injury in his career. Jones-Drew finished the year with 1,324 yards rushing, 317 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in January and has been working his way back since.

"I feel totally different," he said. "There's just no pain at all. I think that's the biggest thing. No matter how tough it is or how sharp the pain is or dull the pain is, it's pain. This year, there is no pain. It's just going out there playing like I've been playing the first couple of years without it. I guess you can pretty much say they got me a new knee off of eBay. Pretty cool."

Jones-Drew wants to give his "new knee" the ultimate test -- full contact. But it's not his call.

The Jaguars are bringing him along slowly. They held him out of 11-on-11 drills the first two weeks of camp, but cleared him for limited contact Sunday.

He lined up with the first-team offense, took a handoff and got his first real taste of football in more than eight months.

"I got thudded, not tackled," he said. "I know my knee is stable and strong. It's kind of like your first year of football. You don't know what to expect. I haven't got hit in almost nine months. ... Getting tackled to the ground is a feeling you want to feel, so hopefully the coaches will be confident enough to let me do it in preseason. If not, then Week 1 it will be. It's not a big deal."

Teammates know better, saying Jones-Drew is eager for more -- more repetitions, more contact, more confidence in his knee.

Jones-Drew and quarterback David Garrard spent last week rehabbing together, essentially riding stationary bikes during practice and longing to return to the field.

"He is definitely itching to get back out here," Garrard said. "But he's been in the league long enough now to know that he needs to be fully healthy before he gets out there and starts getting pounded. You know him; he doesn't pass up any chances to run somebody over. He will run right through you. He knows he has to be completely healthy, and we want him to be completely healthy."

Jones-Drew joked about being last on the depth chart, even behind undrafted rookies Richard Murphy and DuJuan Harris. But he promised to work his way back to the top before the opener -- with or without hard hits.

"I'm last on the depth chart right now," he said. "I was talking to all of the running backs, even those rookie free agents. I'm taking everybody's job one day at a time."