Ryquell Armstead back on Jaguars active roster after COVID-19 battle, year away from football

Ryquell Armstead returned to the Jacksonville Jaguars this week when general manager Trent Baalke signed the 25-year-old back Wednesday off the Green Bay Packers practice squad.

Armstead will be on Jacksonville's active roster for the final three games of the season. That was once a given for the former fifth-round pick. But then in the summer of 2020, Armstead landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and struggled to return to the field -- and to full health.

The back, who tallied 252 yards from scrimmage on 49 touches in his rookie campaign in 2019, was looking at a healthy role in a muddled Jaguars backfield in 2020. Instead of battling for a roster spot, however, Armstead wound up battling something much more serious.

Back in Jacksonville on Thursday, Armstead told reporters for the first time about his struggle with the novel coronavirus. Initially hospitalized with respiratory issues and eventually diagnosed with myocarditis, Armstead said he was unable to do anything physical for eight months.

"I realized health is wealth," he said, per The Associated Press. "A lot of people say you don't cherish health until something happens to you. ... I found who's close and who loves me."

Armstead said he took the time away from football to spend more time with his family.

"It was a blessing in disguise. I got to relax. I got to sit back and enjoy my family, enjoy my kids, just do what they want to do. Be a dad. Just not take anything for granted," Armstead said. "I cherish every moment now, and when it was time for me to step up out of my comfort zone and get back to where I need to be, I took that step."

Following his football hiatus, Armstead was waived by the Jaguars in May. The back was immediately claimed by the New York Giants, who then waived him in June.

Now reunited with Baalke and the Jags, the back says he holds no grudges against the general manager who let him go.

"It's a business. I understand my injury caused that. It was nothing I did. It was nothing I could do," Armstead said. "I know I'm an awesome football player. I know I'm explosive. I know I'm powerful. I know what I bring."

After stints on practice squads in New Orleans and Green Bay in the fall, Armstead is primed to play out the winter in Duval. With Carlos Hyde on injured reserve and versatile receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. on the COVID-19 list, the back has an opportunity to siphon off backup carries behind James Robinson, who seized the starting RB role in Jacksonville when Armstead was sidelined.

If Armstead is active Sunday against the New York Jets, it will be his first NFL game played in just under two years, a remarkable milestone for a player whose return to football and to normalcy was just recently in doubt.

"I had a goal. I had a vision. I had an endgame," he said. "And this was the endgame. I'm here. I'm back on a 53 roster. I'm back active and I'm blessed. My mental is so strong that none of this fazed me.

"I just keep going."

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