JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Justin Blackmon has been arrested, criticized, suspended and vilified during his two seasons in the NFL.
Maybe he was long overdue for something positive.
Coming off a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Blackmon has been the best receiver in the league over the last two weeks.
The former Oklahoma State star has caught 19 passes for 326 yards and a touchdown, becoming one of the lone bright spots on a team that has lost every game by double digits. His two-game totals are tops in the league in receptions, first downs and yards from scrimmage.
“He’s got that ‘it’ factor,” fellow receiver Cecil Shorts III said. “Some people just got it. Some people are just blessed with it, and he’s one of them guys. There’s a select few of them guys, and he’s definitely one of them.”
Blackmon credits his suspension for his recent success, saying he used the time away from the field to get in better shape. Blackmon missed part of the organized team activities and training camp following groin surgery.
“Everything I did in the offseason was pretty much gone when I came back, so I got time to build up my legs back to where I wanted them to be, build up my upper body to how I wanted it to be, get my weight back,” Blackmon said Wednesday. “After surgery, I had some eating problems and I was sick a lot and I was dropping weight.
“So it gave me time to really get my body the way I wanted it to be for the season.”
His reputation is still a work in progress.
Blackmon has been involved in three substance-related incidents in three years. He was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge in Texas in 2010 after officers caught him speeding on a suburban Dallas highway. The charge was later reduced to an underage alcohol possession charge. A little more than a month after the Jaguars traded up to select Blackmon with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, he was arrested during a traffic stop in Stillwater, Okla., after a breath test allegedly showed his blood alcohol content to be three times the legal limit.
His next violation, the reason for which remains unknown, landed him the suspension.
He’s been widely criticized since, with some people questioning whether he has a substance-abuse problem and others wondering how long until he fails another test.
“I just don’t really care about people on the outside,” Blackmon said. “I don’t care what they got to say. I don’t really care how they view me because they don’t try to know me. They won’t ever know me, so that’s not important to me. They can feel however they want to feel. I don’t really care about that.
“All I can do is control what I can control, and that’s showing up here, trying to get better every day and carrying that out there on the field.”
Teammates and coaches have gotten to see another side of Blackmon, who routinely gives away tickets to random people who work on his route home and allowed former teammate Matt Veldman to live rent free in his house all of last season and through part of the offseason.
“I’m a very good person, I would say,” Blackmon said. “I’m a very good person. Like I said, not everybody’s going to view me how I want them to. I’m not going to try to force them or make them view me that way, either. If they want to get to know me, they can get to know me. If not, I could care less about them.”
One thing the Jaguars (0-6) do know is that Blackmon is the team’s top playmaker.
He caught 14 passes for 190 yards, both career highs, against Denver and again will be the No. 1 target against San Diego (3-3). And he did it despite straining hamstring and groin muscles — an injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday.
“He just fought through it,” coach Gus Bradley said. “Wow, huh? Isn’t that something? His competitive spirit is unbelievable. He was in that zone and he was competing. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t a bad pull. He was in some pain, I’m sure. Any time you have that strain, to fight through it and still perform at the level he did, does say something.”