JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A wide-brimmed hat and black shorts don’t represent the type of uniform Justin Blackmon would be wearing in an ideal situation during Jacksonville Jaguars training camp.
And he would rather be on the receiving end of passes from quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne than from strength and conditioning coach Tom Myslinski.
But that’s what the Jaguars’ first-round draft choice of a year ago has been limited to doing thus far. Blackmon is less than five weeks removed from undergoing surgery on his groin, and getting him back on the field as soon as possible is a top priority in light of the four-game suspension by the NFL that he’ll serve when the regular season begins next month.
“It’s just getting this injury taken care of and making sure I don’t come back too early and re-injure it,” he said Thursday after his teammates practiced in full pads for a little more than two hours. “My whole thing is I feel great. I want to get back out there. But I know it’s going to take some time to let it heal.”
Blackmon, who had a team-high 64 catches for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, has been running routes of no longer than 10 yards during his session with Myslinski on one of the practice fields. His absence has been felt as the Jaguars continue to try finding a wide receiver who can take the attention of opposing teams off Cecil Shorts III.
“It was just something in OTAs that I tweaked,” he said of his injury. “We tried to rehab it and everything. But I went and saw a doctor, and it needed to be taken care of. And since we had the time, that’s what we did.”
While his statistics of a year ago were not unimpressive, Blackmon could have been poised for a breakout season if not for his health and his latest violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has brought in an up-tempo system similar to what Blackmon was part of while an All-American at Oklahoma State catching passes from Brandon Weeden, now the starting quarterback with the Cleveland Browns.
“We’re not going to get up to 95 plays a game like we did at Oklahoma State,” he said. “But it’s going to be a lot faster tempo than we had last year, and a lot of chances for a lot of people to make plays.”
Instead, he has to be content with being something of a volunteer assistant coach.
“It’s a different role for me,” Blackmon said. “But I just try to keep my head in the game, try to stay focused on what’s going on, try to get mental reps. There’s a lot of things going on. So I just do what I can while I’m on the side, whether that’s helping the young guys out, them coming to me and asking what I saw from the sidelines because I can see the overall field.”
Mike Brown and fourth-round draft pick Ace Sanders were cited by coach Gus Bradley for standing out in place of Blackmon. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Brown is a converted college quarterback who did not catch a pass in the final two games of last season after the Jaguars activated him from the practice squad.
“The challenge for those guys will be to do it every day, not to show us three or four good days and then kind of fade away,” Bradley said.
“They know what they’ve got to do,” Shorts said. “Somebody has to play outside the first four games when (Blackmon) is gone, so they’re doing a good job of competing as if there’s an opportunity. Now they’ve got to make plays.”
The usually reliable Shorts had a rough day of practice. A pass from Henne during 11-on-11 drills went through his hands and was intercepted by cornerback Alan Bell. After that, with Gabbert participating in drills for the first time since spraining his right ankle Tuesday, Shorts hauled in a pass over the middle for first-down yardage but then had the ball knocked loose by safety Dwight Lowery.
For a player who prides himself on the high-and-tight philosophy of maintaining possession of the ball, it was a humbling experience.
“That’s definitely something I’ll take the blame for,” Shorts said. “It was definitely my fault, and I’ll be ready for it at tomorrow’s practice.”
“Everybody has their day in training camp, and that’s going to happen,” Bradley said. “I know Cecil plays with great pride, and I know he’s probably looking at that play and saying, ‘What in the world happened? How did that happen?’ But it’s a great lesson. That’s why we practice. That’s why we have training camp, to try and eliminate those things in games.”