JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before becoming the first wide receiver in NFL history with five seasons of at least 100 catches, Wes Welker wasn’t even one of the 255 players drafted in 2004.
Allen Hurns has a long way to go before reaching anything close to that sort of lofty status with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But based on what he showed during their organized team activities and this week’s three-day mandatory minicamp, the undrafted free agent from the University of Miami stands an excellent chance of sticking around for some time to come.
With veterans Cecil Shorts III and Tandon Doss both sidelined by calf injuries and second-round draft picks Marqise Lee (ankle) and Allen Robinson (hamstring) also out, Hurns has gotten plenty of work with what could be regarded as the first-string offense. The one-handed snag he made Thursday of a pass from Chad Henne in a red-zone 11-on-11 drill was just the latest case of him leaving a positive impression with teammates and coaches.
"Allen Hurns had a heck of a camp," Henne said. "I’m excited to see what he does in training camp once we get the pads on. He’s a big, strong receiver and understands the offense …. Just a really reliable guy."
"Obviously we wish they could have practiced," coach Gus Bradley said of the four injured receivers. "But in the OTAs and the minicamp, you’re trying to evaluate everybody. And I will say it has given us a chance. A guy like Hurns has stepped up because of it."
Hurns, who had 60 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns with the Hurricanes as a senior, is following a path similar to fellow Jaguars wide receiver Mike Brown. One big difference is that Brown was a quarterback in college when he was signed in 2012.
"Coming in as an undrafted free agent, you’re not looking to get that many reps," Hurns said. "But when some guys go down and you get an opportunity, you’ve got to make the most of it."
Stephen Morris, his quarterback at Miami, was among the additional free agents signed last month by the Jaguars. But that wasn’t as much of a determining factor to Hurns as the presence of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who held the same position with the Hurricanes for two years (2011-12).
"I had a good relationship with Jedd Fisch," he said. "I know his playbook. So coming in, that put me a step ahead. Also, I looked at their roster and saw they had a lot of guys coming in that were new and not that many veterans."
With Justin Blackmon still suspended by the league and his return to the Jaguars very much in doubt, Shorts and Brown are their only remaining wide receivers from before the hiring of Bradley. The only position coach left on the staff of the team that went 2-14 in 2012 is wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan.
Hurns’ attention to detail has earned him praise in the past several weeks.
"He’s a great listener," Shorts said. "Coach Sullivan comes to him and tells him a certain route technique, and he goes out there and does it."
"I take pride in that," Hurns said. "As a receiver, I don’t like making mistakes, because one mistake can cause interceptions and things like that. So I just look up to Cecil and listen to my coaches. That helps me a lot."
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Hurns has learned all three wide receiver positions used by the Jaguars. Even with Shorts, Doss, Lee and Robinson expected to be ready when training camp opens in five weeks, that versatility should make him an asset.
Any stigma he might have had after going undrafted is now a thing of the past.
"It adds a lot of motivation when you’re not drafted," he said. "You always see yourself as being drafted. But once you get here, it all goes out the door. You’re just working to be the best person you can."
"I don’t know what the other 31 teams were thinking," Shorts said. "But I know one thing: He’s doing a great job. He’s not worried about whether he was drafted or not drafted or whatever. He’s out there having fun. He’s out there competing, which is our culture."
Hurns hasn’t decided whether to go back to Miami and work with Morris in the weeks ahead or stay in Jacksonville. One event which is definitely on his planner is a camp July 6-11 in Minnesota run by Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Shorts attended that last season with several of his Jaguars teammates.
Bradley cut short the final day of minicamp as a reward for what he described as "a more mature team than we were last year." The Jaguars went 4-12 a year ago and, following the release Thursday of defensive end Jason Babin, have only two players older than 30 — kicker Josh Scobee and defensive end Chris Clemons.
"We’ve got to transfer from excellent football to football excellence during training camp," Bradley said. "That’s our objective."