JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars receiver Ace Sanders says he feels better about himself, where he is in his life and his future.
The second-year player from South Carolina, who will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season as punishment for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, returned to the team on Saturday after a month-long leave of absence to deal with what he called personal issues. Sanders could have participated in training camp and dealt with his problems at the same time, but he opted to put his health and well-being above his football career.
If he has truly beaten back his problem, and that’s something that can only be proven over time, then Sanders has given other troubled NFL players a blueprint to deal with whatever issues they are facing.
"I hope it does," Sanders said Sunday afternoon. "I hope it does show some kind of courage to go ahead and handle what you have to handle first, but then again you won’t always have an organization like we do that will allow it.
"Hopefully, it not only opens eyes to the players but also to coaches and the staff to realize that we have outside issues going on as well."
Not many players have attacked their problem the same way. Justin Blackmon certainly didn’t. Neither has former New York Giants safety Will Hill, former Washington tight end Fred Davis or Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon. There’s certainly no guarantee that they would have avoided further problems if they had, but would their situations have been any worse if they had? All have violated the league’s substance-abuse policy multiple times.
Maybe it would have helped, and if Sanders goes on to have no future problems, then his method should become an example. Each person’s situation is different and getting help depends on being willing to admit there’s a problem and actively seeking to solve that problem, but Sanders’ health-first, football-second-approach makes a lot of sense.
"I don’t know how it can’t be [an example for other players]," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "He really could have been here all during training camp. He knows he’s suspended and then gone then, but he didn’t [wait]. He went when he could have practiced. I mean, to me, what’s that say about him? That it was so important and to [general manager] Dave Caldwell and to [owner] Shad [Khan], to say, ‘Hey, that’s what’s most important. It’s most important to get you right.’
"We talk about, ‘Let’s get your world in order,’ and I think for us it was a chance to demonstrate, to say, ‘That’s right, it’s so important to get your life in order. Go do it now.’ But it was really brought to us from Ace, so he deserves all the credit."
Again, only time will tell if Sanders has truly beaten his issues, but right now it at least seems that he is comfortable with himself. His teammates, some of whom had communicated regularly with him over the past 31 days, have noticed.
"I think it was great for him," receiver Mike Brown said. "He and I talked a little last night about things. It seems like it was a good experience for him. I'm more happy for him as a person than anything. That's the most important thing. He's like a brother to me.
"I was worried about him as a person first and then the football stuff will come along."