AUBURN, Ala. — Jaylon Denson still feels sore from time to time. It's nothing major; just the typical cuts and nicks that surface when you play football. But it's a far cry from where he was nearly one year ago. On the road against LSU in Auburn's first road affair of the season, Denson went down with a knee injury on the game's opening drive.
He didn't return.
It was discovered that he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee, ending his season barely a month into the 2013 campaign.
"That was a pretty tough injury, and that's a big blow for our offense," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last September, less than a week after the injury occurred. "He was our most consistent guy. It's going to have to be by committee from here on out."
Considered the best blocker in the Tigers' receiving corps, the team had to find a way to make do without him. And they did, as they rushed for a school-record 4,596 rushing yards on their way to an SEC championship.
Missing a majority of that magical run, as one would expect, wasn't easy.
"It's been a long road. It's been a long struggle," Denson said. "But by the grace of God, I made it."
But all he can do look forward. At this point, he's just happy about regaining his health.
"I'm healed up," he said. "Everything now is just mental, you know, just trying to get those mental kinks out of it."
Once the Tigers opened preseason camp, he proved to the coaching staff that were no lingering issues from the knee injury.
"Jaylon is doing well. In the first three or four practices we saw enough to know that he's going to be able to play this year," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. " ... But he (has) not reinjured anything or ever been limited from an injury. "
Denson has also done his part to make sure he doesn't push himself too hard, as he carries on a constant dialogue with Dameyune Craig.
"Just communicating with him. You know, if something doesn't feel right or if I need to take a break," Denson said of the receivers coach. "(I) just let him know where I'm at."
The coaching staff shoulders some of the responsibility, too, Lashlee said, to ensure it doesn't do anything to jeopardize Denson's availability prior to the opener Aug. 30.
"It's just now about us managing him to get him to the first game and then I think as the season goes on, his volume will be able to increase," the coach said. "He's practiced every practice. We've given him more reps than others, but that's been by our design, not necessarily him because we had to ease him back into that. He's done really, really good."
As the stats attest, Denson hasn't been one of the Tigers' go-to options in the passing game. In his three-year career on the Plains, he has made only four catches for 57 yards.
That's why he throws himself into his role as a run blocker.
"I have to," he said. " ... I just go out there and do the best I can do. I can't be anybody else. I can just be myself."
If that means he's paving the way for others, that's fine. After missing out on the fun last season, he'll take what he can get. Still, he refused to name names when asked who will be the offense's standout performer this fall.
In a sign of self-confidence, he didn't rule himself out of being one of the team's top threats.
"I think it's going to be an offensive show this season," he said. "Left and right, explosive plays across the board. I can't really put one name ahead of another. It's so close."