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Kampman confident in knee rehab, hopes to boost Jaguars' defense

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Following knee surgery in early December, Aaron Kampman's goal was to walk without a limp in seven days.

He did it.

If the rest of his rehabilitation continues at the same pace, the Jacksonville Jaguars could end up with one of the best free-agent signings of the offseason.

Kampman, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end who signed a four-year contract worth $26 million with the Jaguars, expects to be on the field when training camp begins in July and give his new team a much-needed boost to its pathetic pass rush.

"I anticipate being ready to get after it," Kampman said Monday. "My knee is great. I'm very encouraged by it."

Kampman spent the last eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers and emerged as one of the NFL's elite pass rushers while recording 37 sacks between 2006 and 2008. His productivity dipped last season because he didn't make a smooth transition to Green Bay's 3-4 defensive scheme, which called for him to play outside linebacker.

Kampman had just 3.5 sacks before missing a game in mid-November because of a concussion. He returned the following week, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He had surgery Dec. 4 and now hopes to make a full recovery within seven months.

The Jaguars realize they are taking a risk by signing a 30-year-old player who's coming off major knee surgery. But they also believe Kampman's work ethic and relentless effort could lead to a rapid recovery and an instant upgrade along the defensive line.

"He is a guy that has proven at the professional level that he can get to the quarterback," Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "He has done it more than one season. He's not a flash in the pan. He's a steady, consistent guy in that regard, a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

"Some guys proved they could get to the quarterback in college, but it doesn't translate to the pros. He's a guy that has proven at this level, against excellent competition, year-in and year-out, that he can get to the quarterback."

In Jacksonville, Kampman will play right end -- a position that plagued the team all of last season. Former first-round draft pick Derrick Harvey, second-rounder Quentin Groves, undrafted rookie Julius Williams and second-year pro Bryan Smith all failed to lock down the premier spot in 2009.

Now, it's Kampman's turn.

"I'm excited to put my hand back on the ground, very excited," he said. "I have a fire burning to do that."

Last season, the Jaguars finished with a franchise-worst 14 sacks, the fifth-lowest total in NFL history. Owner Wayne Weaver, general manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio vowed to upgrade the line, and they targeted Kampman before free agency began Friday.

Kampman visited Jacksonville on Saturday, liked what he saw and heard, and signed a deal that includes $11 million guaranteed the following day.

"I think I can help. I hope I can help," he said. "Historically, Jacksonville has been very good on defense. I know the last couple of years it hasn't been up to that standard. I feel like I have a chance to be a part of something and to put it back where that standard has been. I want to help do that, so this seemed like a good fit."

Center Brad Meester made it an even better fit. Kampman and Meester were high school teammates at Aplington-Parkersburg High in Iowa and remained close friends through college and the pros. Kampman and his wife, Linde, were accompanied to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Monday by Meester's wife, Jamie.

"They are a big asset for us, especially for my wife," Kampman said. "We have been driving around looking at schools, and that will be helpful for us in the transition."

The most important transition, though, depends on Kampman's health. He's not sure when he will start running again. But he's sure it will be sooner than expected.

"We are not on normal timelines," Kampman said. "When you start to think about how long it could be, that can put seeds in your mind of weakness. I'll let my body heal the way it is supposed to heal. The Lord has been gracious to me, and I am thankful for how it is healing. Hopefully that will continue."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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