In the wake of the Georgia-Florida game and Florida State’s continued dominance, the Jaguars still made news on their bye week. Justin Blackmon is suspended for the rest of the season.
by Cole Pepper
August 1, 2013
Chad Owens. Cortez Hankton. Matt Jones. Tiquan Underwood. Jarrett Dillard.
They are among a long and illustrious group of receivers that have stood out in Jaguars training camps past. For a variety of reasons, none of them ever lived up to the hype. Judging receivers in early August is a tricky thing. Once the pads go on, some receivers aren’t a brave going over the middle. Some look good against second and third team defenses, but can’t get separation against NFL starters. Some just can’t be consistent.
With that disclaimer as a cautionary tale serving as a backdrop, it’s time to assess the Jaguars receivers.The assumption is that the Jaguars will keep either five or six receivers, plus Justin Blackmon, who won’t be able to play until week five under league suspension. Who leads the race for roster spots so far?
Lock to make the team: Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon
Shorts finally looked human on Thursday, losing a fumble after a catch when he fumbled leading to a Chris Prosinski recovery and return. He also had a pass from Chad Henne go through his hands, leading to an interception by Ball. After practice, Shorts was fuming at the mistakes he made.
Gus Bradley wasn’t too worried about the performance saying that he believes that “everybody has their [bad] day in training camp. That’s going to happen. Cecil plays with great pride and that’s a great lesson.”
Still, Shorts has clearly improved physically since his breakout season last year and the coaches continue to applaud his competitiveness. Blackmon has yet to practice as he recovers from groin surgery and he will sit out the first four games of the regular season under league suspension. He has been active and involved in practice and Thursday, he worked on the side catching a few passes, although he wasn’t in pads.
Nearly a lock: Ace Sanders
When the rookie was drafted in the 4th round this year, most thought his biggest contribution would be as a punt returner. However, Sander has looked very good as a receiver, especially in the slot. Sanders attributes the doubts in his game to his size (5’7″ 178 pounds). Sanders has been productive in practice, which is one of wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan’s main points of emphasis for the receivers. “Not just him, everybody,” Sanders said. “If you come out and make plays everyday, they’re going to notice it.”
I had not seen Sanders drop a pass this year, so I asked him about it.
“I think I might have dropped one in individual [drills], being a little sluggish,” admitted Sanders. “Pretty much, I’m just trying to catch everything they throw at me.”
As it stands now, Sanders looks like the #1 option in the slot, but remember, they have only practiced in pads for two days and NFL defensive backs are bigger and stronger than those Sanders saw in the SEC.
Looking good so far, but more to prove: Mike Brown, Jordan Shipley
Mike Brown is close to being in the “Nearly a lock” category. Gus Bradley mentioned Shorts, Sanders and Brown when I asked him about the receiver Thursday. Brown was raw when he arrived in Jacksonville last year. He spent most of the year on the practice squad before being activated for the final two games. He played quarterback at Liberty, so he’s still making the transition to receiver.
“I think Mike has grown up a lot and established himself as a guy who can help our team,” Sullivan said. “He was raw. When you make a position switch its tougher. There’s a lot of learning. He’s an intelligent guy and an intelligent football player. It’s something that’s important to him.”
Shipley finished the year as the slot receiver for the Jaguars and although he hasn’t flashes as much as Shorts, Sanders or Brown, he has been steady. One factor playing against Shipley is that new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is looking for explosive play makers who can be used in a variety of ways. Shipley isn’t that. He’s a possession receiver in the slot.
Needs to show something: Mohamed Massaquoi, Toney Clemons, Tobais Palmer
Massaquoi began came as the starter in place of Justin Blackmon, but he hasn’t been productive enough to keep that spot. Because he’s a veteran, it makes sense to wait to see how he performs in the scrimmage Saturday night and the pre-season games, but so far, he has slipped behind Brown and Sanders in the pecking order.
Clemons caught three balls in four games last year for the Jaguars and he has the ability to get deep and go up for the ball. At 6’2″ he and Massaquoi are the tallest Jaguars receivers.
“It’s an opportunity to put some stuff on tape that I can be proud of,” Clemons said of the competition. “Every time you’re called upon to make a play, I hold myself to a standard to make that play. It’s all about production and consistency.”
Tobais Palmer open some eyes in mini-camp and OTAs. The rookie from North Carolina State has been working mostly with the 2s and 3s, so he’ll have to make the most of his snaps when the lights are on.
A long way to go: Jeremy Ebert, Jamal Miles, Cole McKenzie, Taylor Price (injured)
Ebert is a candidate to play the slot, although he missed some time early in camp after hitting his head on the ground making a catch. He’s a low-to-the ground type who spent time on New England’s practice squad and looks like the army of shorter wide receivers that the Patriots seem to amass every year.
Miles has a chance to make the roster if he can excel on kick returns. He holds the Arizona State record for kick return yards. Denard Robinson figures to be the first choice returning kicks, but Miles could make his mark on special teams, always a great way to earn a spot at the bottom of the roster.
McKenzie was a workout player this off-season and the Jaguars decided to bring him back for camp. He has a big step to take from NAIA Southern Oregon. Taylor price has been recovering from foot surgery. He got out of his walking boot this week.
by Cole Pepper
Of all of the Jaguars position groups, perhaps none has a higher ceiling and lower floor of potential than the wide receivers.
At their best, the Jaguars young wide receiving tandem of Cecil Shorts (above) and Justin Blackmon evoke memories of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. Shorts, who scored five touchdowns of 40 yards or longer and averaged 17.8 yards per catch, second best in the NFL.
Blackmon, meanwhile, came on late in the year. He caught at least five passes in six of the last nine games of the year, including a massive 7 catch, 236 yard game at Houston. Shorts is entering his third season in the NFL, Blackmon his second. You can see the potential.
Then again, Shorts sustained two concussions, including one that ended his season on Christmas Eve, keeping him from a shot at a 1,000 yard season. Blackmon will miss the first four games of the year after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and he’s yet to prove that he can make mature decisions off of the field.
It’s a classic NFL story of not really knowing what you have.
Best case scenario? Shorts continues to make big plays down the field and isn’t slowed by defenses focusing on him and Blackmon returns in week five, motivated and determined to keep his nose clean.
The worst case? Shorts goes the way of Laurent Robinson, becoming concussion-prone and Blackmon keeps making bad decisions off the field and gets suspended for a year. Then what?
Shorts and Blackmon aren’t the only receivers who could make a difference for the Jaguars, but they may be the only ones capable of being every down pass catchers.. After being picked up in November, Jordan Shipley looked like a guy who can play the slot. He caught 23 passes in six games for the Jaguars last season. If the Jaguars are going to have a dynamic offense, Shipley will likely have to play a supporting role.
Other wide receivers to keep an eye on include free agent acquisition Mohamed Massaquoi. The former Georgia Bulldog has never lived up to his draft status (he was a second round pick by the Browns in 2009) but a new team and different expectations may be just what he needs to resurrect his career. Toney Clemons, who showed some flashes at the end of last season. He’s a big receiver at 6’2″ and 210 pounds. It will be interesting to see how much rookie Ace Sanders is used at wide receiver. He will clearly be given the chance to return punts and my feeling is that the Jaguars coaches hope that they don’t have to rush him into service at wide out, at least not early in the season.
Defining Success: For starters, staying healthy. Second, for Blackmon to avoid more off the field problems. Third, for someone, Shipley, Massaquoi, Taylor Price, Ace Sanders…someone, to emerge as a true third option. Denard Robinson may also be looped into this conversation if he is used out of the backfield as an X-factor. Perhaps the best barometer for success for this group is to play well enough that, when evaluating the Jaguars quarterback, coaches and personnel guys won’t be tempted to use wide receiver play as an excuse for QB play.
*-will sit out first four games of the 2013 regulars season under league suspension