Compared with the anticipated return of All-Pro Calvin Johnson from offseason knee and finger surgeries, Shorts' comeback from a strained right hamstring on the first day of training camp has barely registered a blip nationally. But for a team sorely lacking in experienced receivers, the sight of Shorts participating in practice this week is indeed welcome.
And the disposition of the fourth-year veteran was even cheerier than usual Wednesday.
"I'm just excited to get back out there with my guys. It's been a long time. Today was really my fourth day of camp," said Shorts, who led the Jaguars last season in catches (66) and receiving yards (777).
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he anticipates Shorts will get "15 plays or so" with the first-team offense against the Lions. Both Chad Henne and rookie Blake Bortles will work at least a quarter each with the anticipated regular-season starters, although their respective stints at quarterback could depend on the length of their drives.
After getting a total of only 17 snaps in the opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Henne ran 26 plays in the first quarter alone last week at Chicago as the offense produced two field goals and a touchdown. Shorts didn't make the trip but was delighted with what he saw on television back home.
"We're moving the ball," he said. "We're pushing it. We're making plays outside the receivers and running the ball better. Chad and Blake are on point with their throws, on point with their reads. And the offensive line is doing a great job. Now, we've got a lot of work to do to get to where we're trying to get. But it's definitely a great start."
The hamstring ailment was the latest in a series of setbacks with Shorts. He missed most of the organized team activities earlier in the summer with a calf injury, and a groin injury landed him on injured reserve in December and forced him to miss the final three games of the Jaguars' 4-12 season.
Of the six players who finished closest behind Shorts in receptions on the team last year, only wide receiver Mike Brown and tight end Marcedes Lewis are still with the Jaguars and available. Ace Sanders is on a leave of absence pending a four-game suspension, Justin Blackmon is on indefinite suspension by the NFL, Maurice Jones-Drew is now with the Oakland Raiders and Clay Harbor is sidelined with a calf injury.
Rookies Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns have made consecutive starts at wide receiver -- in part because of the unavailability of Shorts, but also because rookie Allen Robinson has been out with a hamstring injury of his own.
"When I stayed (behind), I knew I was getting ready for practice on Sunday and practice this week," Shorts said. "That was the whole plan."
"We've got to treat him like a first preseason game," Bradley said.
Shorts said he got an increased number of reps per practice period Wednesday in what he called his best day since being cleared to return. When he plays against the Lions, he might find the increased emphasis around the league on calling holding on defensive backs will make it easier to run his routes.
But to say that was a factor in Shorts getting back on the field would be a stretch.
"I don't really need outside influences to get motivated about playing," he said. "I just want to be at my best to help the team."
Bortles has completed 64.3 percent of his passes with no interceptions and has been sacked just once. This will be the first game where the first-round pick from UCF goes up against a first-team defense.
"He's made some incredible throws," Shorts said. "He's good at throwing on the run. He's making the right calls and getting rid of the ball quick."
Bradley said Robinson will make the trip to Detroit but won't be in uniform. The second-round pick out of Penn State could be ready for the final preseason game next week against the Atlanta Falcons, and the same goes for Tandon Doss (ankle), a wide receiver who spent the last three years with the Baltimore Ravens and was expected to compete for a job as a punt returner.
"It's not ideal," Bradley said. "You'd like to have them all during training camp. I know he's been paying attention in meetings, out here at every practice. But it's still nothing like doing it. So hopefully we can start to work with (Robinson) a little next week."