CLEMSON -- For an instant, Clemson receiver Jacoby Ford's heart sank.
After making a catch in a non-contact drill Monday, a teammate rolled into Ford's feet, causing the 5-9 junior to collapse in pain.
Ford's thoughts immediately went to the broken left ankle suffered late in last October's blowout win at Maryland, an injury that sidelined him the final five games as well as for all of the contact drills in spring practice.
But it was not long before Ford realized the shooting pain was coming from his other ankle -- his right ankle -- which would soon be diagnosed with a minor sprain.
"It kind of spooked me a little bit," Ford said.
Ford participated in non-contact drills during Wednesday's practice and said he should be cleared to return today.
If Ford is to leave defenders seeing ghosts this season, the Tigers need him close to full speed.
Furthermore, if he is to mature into more than a gimmicky weapon on Clemson's offense, he figures to have to show that progress this month.
While Ford's sprinter speed was a threat opposing teams accounted for last season, the Tigers only tapped into it through niche roles.
Offensive coordinator Rob Spence, a proponent of using screen passes to spread out defenses, made Ford a designated quick-pass target in hopes of getting an isolated match-up on the outside. In the same sense, Ford factored into the rushing game by going in pre-snap motion as a potential ball-carrier on an end-around, thus theoretically deterring a defense from clogging the middle of the field.
But all told, Ford finished the season with nearly as many rushes (14) as receptions (17), a ratio Clemson's coaches hope will change.
Spence said the next step in Ford's progression is improving his hands -- specifically, his consistency catching the ball.
Next, despite his intimidating velocity, Ford still has to work on gaining separation from defensive backs because of a lack of polish at the defining moment of his route.
"He's such a natural athlete with such great change of direction," Spence said. "He wants to get better, and I believe he will."
If reports of Ford's 40-yard dash times are to be believed, his surgically repaired left ankle does not appear a hindrance in that regard.
Ford was allowed to participate in non-contact drills during March's spring practices, but he still felt pain the longer he ran and could not complete the workouts.
By the end of May, he ran the 100-meter-dash in 10.21 seconds at the NCAA east regional to qualify for the championship meet, where he was disqualified.
Two days after the championship meet, he said he posted consecutive 40 times of 4.03 (a personal best) and 4.06 seconds, as clocked by Clemson's conditioning staff.
"That should say (the ankle) is better," Ford said. "It's got a nice little scar, but it's good to go now."
Ford said he still feels occasional discomfort if the ankle is hit from the side, but the pain experienced from running an extended amount of time has dissipated.
"The biggest thing for me now is becoming wiser at what I'm doing," Ford said. "Like (receivers) coach (Dabo) Swinney tells me, if I'm a veteran, I need to play like one."