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Jaguars WR Marqise Lee healthy, confident and having fun again

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It has been a long time since Marqise Lee had this much fun on the football field.

Maybe not since his sophomore season at USC, during which he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting (Johnny Manziel was the winner that year).

But the third-year receiver sure is enjoying himself now -- and for good reason. Not only has he been healthy for the entire offseason, he’s also been the Jacksonville Jaguars’ best receiver throughout organized team activities and minicamp, too.

"It’s been a while for me to be out here like this," Lee said. "This is the most confident I’ve been. My body’s feeling [great]. I’m 100 percent, so therefore I can go out and get it done."

There have been doubts that Lee would ever be in this position. He has 52 catches for 613 yards and two touchdowns in his two seasons, certainly not the kind of production the Jaguars envisioned when they took him with the 39th pick in 2014. Injuries have kept Lee from being anything more than a bit player in the offense.

In fact, injuries have kept him from being anything more than a bit player in the offseason, too.

Lee dealt with an ankle injury as a rookie and a knee injury last year and spent much of his time working off to the side rehabbing. This is the first time in his career he’s been completely healthy for the entire offseason program.

"That was my main focus coming into this offseason program: To go through OTAs and then minicamp and actually finish," Lee said. "I’m proud of myself and I just want to keep it going."

So does offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Allen Robinson (hamstring) and Allen Hurns (sports hernia) were limited throughout OTAs and minicamp, so Lee got extra reps at all three receiver positions. That will allow Olson to game-plan different ways to get Lee the ball and take advantage of his speed, which the Jaguars couldn’t do the past two seasons because of Lee’s injuries.

Lee fought a hamstring injury during the first half of the 2014 season and missed three games before finishing with 37 catches for 422 yards and one touchdown. After missing most of training camp, all of the preseason and six of the first eight games because of a hamstring injury, Lee finally got healthy and stayed on the field for the Jaguars’ final eight games in 2015 – but he caught just 15 passes.

"Really excited about him," Olson said. "He’s in a great place mentally. Not only health-wise he’s doing better, but he’s got a better understanding overall of the offense.

"… I’m real optimistic about him."

So are his teammates, because they know Lee adds another element to an offense that already has a pretty good group of playmakers in Robinson, Hurns and tight end Julius Thomas.

"Any given moment he could be that home-run hitter," Hurns said. "He’s very explosive, so it could be just giving him a shallow route or him catching a bubble, things that he did at USC. At any given moment he could always have the game-changing play."

Quarterback Blake Bortles wouldn’t mind another option. You can never have too many good pass-catchers.

"He’s an electric player with his speed and his route-running ability and what he can do with the ball after the catch," Bortles said. "As long as he’s able to stay healthy, he’s going to be a huge asset to this team. He understands that and knows how important it is for him to take care of his body and come back ready to go in August."

There’s the caveat. Lee has to stay healthy throughout training camp and the preseason. Otherwise, he’ll be in the same situation he was the past two seasons and his future with the franchise will be in doubt.

Until Lee proves he can remain injury-free, the questions will come. He’s confident that he won’t have to field those kinds of questions much longer, though.

"It’s not a problem," Lee said. "I know it’s going to end. I know that for a fact. I’m actually getting the opportunity to actually finish OTAs and minicamp [healthy] and I know it’s going to come to an end eventually. I plan on doing well in training camp."

That would make everybody happy.