The cornerback was back on the practice field this week, showing no effects of a knee injury that ended his rookie season during training camp last summer.
''I'm blessed to be out there getting reps again,'' McDougle said after practice Wednesday. ''I got the heads up a couple of days ago, and they're going to let me get in the mix. I'm just happy to be out there.''
McDougle was a third-round draft pick out of Maryland last year and expected to play a major role for the Jets - either as a starter at cornerback or as a key backup. Three days after making his NFL debut in the Jets' preseason opener against Indianapolis, McDougle was participating in a 1-on-1 drill on Aug. 10 with wide receiver Stephen Hill when he went down in a heap after getting a cleat caught in the grass.
He tore off his helmet, stayed on his back and knew his season was likely over with what was later diagnosed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. A few hours later, McDougle took to Twitter to thank friends and fans for their support, and then declared:
''This is a tough blow but I promise, I will be back better than ever.''
So far, so good.
McDougle was running around at full-speed during organized team activities and even stayed step-for-step at one point with wide receiver Saalim Hakim - arguably the fastest player on the Jets.
''I was just in the trainer's room and I finished up and they said, `Yeah, we saw you running with Saalim,''' McDougle said with a big smile. ''I made a joke like, `Yeah, he's kind of slow.' I was just joking, though, but I trust my speed right now with all the work I've been doing.''
It has been a rough two-year stretch for McDougle, who missed nearly all of his senior season at Maryland with a shoulder injury. He impressed Terrapins coach Randy Edsall so much with how dedicated he remained to his teammates while recovering that the Dexter McDougle Ultimate Team Player Award was created in his honor.
His leadership and on-field abilities made him an attractive pick for the Jets. During training camp, McDougle impressed then-coach Rex Ryan to the point he was taking snaps with the starting defense at times.
McDougle teared up when he stepped on the field at MetLife Stadium for the preseason opener, thinking back at how many hours of rehabilitation he put in to get there. A few days later, he was dealing with the harsh reality that he had to do it all over again.
''Just watching from the sideline and knowing that you probably could've contributed a lot, it (stinks),'' McDougle said. ''Being out there and having to watch and being limited, and knowing you could be out there making a difference, you've got to be mentally tough and trust the process.''
The Virginia native likely would have gotten a chance for significant playing time. Projected starter Dee Milliner was lost for the season after tearing an Achilles in Week 6 of the regular season. Dimitri Patterson, another projected starter, was cut before the season after he left the team without contacting the organization. The Jets were forced to us several players at cornerback, including Marcus Williams, Darrin Walls, Phillip Adams and converted safety Antonio Allen, trying to find consistent starters in the bunch.
New general manager Mike Maccagnan has aggressively addressed that weakness in the offseason, bringing back both Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie as free agents, and signing Buster Skrine for new coach Todd Bowles' defense. With those three expected to get the bulk of playing time, McDougle knows his role might not be as significant to start off.
But at least he's healthy again - and ready to play.
''It's cool, man,'' McDougle said. ''Revis and Cromartie are good to learn from. I'm in (Revis') ear all the time, and Cro as well. They're two of the best. I'm a younger guy and they take me under their wing and go from there. It's good to have guys you can look up to and learn from.
''I'm going to contribute to this team however they ask me to.''
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