JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Trying to piece together their season after an 0-8 start remains a major concern for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but perhaps not as big as them hoping Justin Blackmon can get his life in order.
Coming off a bye week, the Jaguars practiced Monday for the first time since the news that their wide receiver had been suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy.
While coach Gus Bradley was reluctant to divulge the circumstances that prompted Blackmon’s second suspension this season, the concern for him as a person and not just a first-round draft pick in 2012 was evident throughout the locker room.
“Obviously I’m disappointed in what took place,” Bradley said. “But there’s something bigger out there that we’re working on with him.”
“In my eyes, he is a changed person,” quarterback Chad Henne said. “Whatever happened, I’m not sure. I haven’t heard the full story. But we can only help support him and guide him through these tough times.”
Even in playing only four games, Blackmon’s impact was felt. He caught a 67-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert in his first game back, and a week later, Henne teamed up with him 14 times for 190 yards at Denver.
But the Jaguars’ offense has scored only seven touchdowns the entire season, or as many as the Philadelphia Eagles scored Sunday. And the loss of Blackmon means that except for wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, no one on the current active roster has more than 16 catches.
Shorts said he contacted the rest of the receivers in a group text message Friday after learning of Blackmon’s suspension and spoke with him the following day.
“I thought he was doing a lot better,” he said. “But things happen. And I’m pretty sure he’s going through the proper steps he needs to take to get better.”
When asked if he felt betrayed by Blackmon’s latest setback, Bradley replied, “No, I don’t.” But while he denied thinking about the status of Blackmon’s future with the Jaguars, Bradley referred to him at least once in the past tense.
“He was a good teammate …. You’d talk to anybody on the team, and they would say that,” he said. “They enjoyed him. They enjoyed him as a teammate and enjoyed what he brought to the team.”
“He keeps us receivers going,” said Mike Brown, who is expected to see an increase in activity with Blackmon out of the picture. “He’s always supportive of everybody, always joking around. He brings a lot of energy to our group.”
Brown’s 29-yard reception accounted for the Jaguars’ one touchdown in their most recent loss, a 42-10 drubbing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in London. It was also only the third scoring pass thrown by Henne in five starts in place of Gabbert.
The Jaguars are last in the league in total offense, and except for the Atlanta Falcons, no other team is averaging fewer rushing yards a game.
Bradley said he expects Stephen Burton, who has missed their past five games after suffering a concussion, to figure in the mix at wide receiver Sunday when the Jaguars are at Tennessee. Burton was claimed off waivers at the end of the preseason after spending the previous two years with the Minnesota Vikings and caught five passes in a Week 3 loss at Seattle.
“We see this young man that’s got some potential,” Bradley said. “And we’re going to try to speed it up and get him to where we can trust him, the quarterbacks can trust him, his teammates trust him. He’s done a better job. Maybe a situation like this will light a fuse for him.”
“I want to play to the best of my ability,” Burton said. “Whatever happens after that, I’m going to ride the wave.”
Blackmon could attend meetings and practice with the Jaguars during his earlier suspension but is prohibited from any contact with the team until further notice.
“You definitely notice him not being in here,” Brown said. “But we’ve got to play with the cards that we’re dealt.”
“It’s not about the football, the NFL, Jacksonville. It’s about him, and him getting better,” Shorts said of Blackmon. “That’s all I care about.”