TAMPA, Fla. -- The journey isn't complete for Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie linebacker Jack Cichy, but the finish line is near. Thursday night's fourth and final preseason game (7:30 p.m. ET) against the Jacksonville Jaguars is so much more than just an end to his first NFL training camp.
Sure, he's hoping to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but he's also looking to put an exclamation mark on his recovery from a torn ACL in his right knee, which happened a year ago this month. That alone is a major achievement.
"Where I was last year at this time, both mentally and physically, to now -- it's amazing the difference a year makes," said Cichy, who missed his entire senior season at Wisconsin, and February's NFL combine.
He was able to take part in some events at his pro day in March -- the vertical jump, position drills and the short shuttle -- which gave the Bucs enough confidence to keep him on their draft board. They snagged him in the sixth round. And since then, every step of his recovery has coincided with his NFL journey.
"OTAs were good, everything felt good, but I was still in the brace. And so when I went home, I was like, 'I want to get myself fully comfortable without the brace, where I'm cutting and doing everything without it,'" Cichy said.
"That first week of camp, I was still wearing [the brace]. The first couple padded practices I just kind of, I was talking to my parents and I was like, 'I think I have to do it,' just to kind of get that monkey off my back.'"
In fact, he admits that fear was the biggest hurdle he had to overcome.
"There [were] a lot of instances throughout the start of camp where I had to talk myself off a ledge and kind of just be like, 'You've put in the work. You've done everything you can. You've rehabbed it strong. You've been smart. You've just kind of got to let it loose,'" Cichy said. "After I was able to take the brace off and take a couple of hits with my knee being fine, I think that was when I fully realized that I was back to being 100 percent."
As far as his chances of making the final 53 -- starting strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith is likely headed to the physically unable to perform list, which doesn't count against the 53-man roster and opens an additional roster spot. Devante Bond has also been held out with a foot injury. Cameron Lynch and Riley Bullough both have more experience in the Bucs' system and are also strong special-teams performers.
Cichy has 10 combined tackles this preseason, tied for the most on the team, and coach Dirk Koetter has praised his versatility -- he plays both middle and strongside linebacker, and he's also on all four special teams.
"We like the way he competes," Koetter said. "He's a smart guy. He learns it, he hustles. But ... it's hard to say exactly where he's at coming off that injury compared to the player he might be able to be when he's his best. We'll just have to see. This week will be important for that group of linebackers."