Jaguars receiver Shorts makes ‘risky’ return

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III admittedly hurried back from his latest injury.

It seemed like an odd decision for a fourth-year player who had missed so much time recently with hamstring issues. Even Shorts called it ”risky.”

The move might pay off, though – literally.

Shorts caught a career-high 10 passes for 103 yards in a 16-14 loss at Tennessee on Sunday. Although he also fumbled in the fourth quarter of a close game, his return gave quarterback Blake Bortles a reliable receiver and showed Shorts could be a viable free-agent option – for the Jaguars (0-6) or another NFL team.

”I can see where people on the outside would question it,” said Shorts, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. ”I get that. But considering my situation, it was a chance I wanted to take.”

Shorts missed most of training camp because of a strained right hamstring. He returned for the final two preseason games, but then tweaked his left hamstring just days before the regular-season opener. He sat out the first two games and then re-injured his left hamstring at San Diego on Sept. 28.

He sat out Jacksonville’s following game against Pittsburgh, but was surprisingly back on the field for practice a few days later.

”It’s the obvious: It’s my last year of the contract, there’s so much stuff going on, the fact that the team’s depending on me to step up, improve and make plays,” Shorts said. ”To not be out there, it was tough. I think I learned from it. I think I grew as a man from it. And I think I’m a better person from this. But I’ve got to continue to be healthy.”

Shorts has missed four games in three-plus seasons, hardly the kind of availability that will get him the kind of money he’s looking for in a second contract.

But if he can stay on the field – and keep making plays – his market value surely will improve.

”It felt good to go out there and contribute and be a help to the team,” he said. ”I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. … The next step would be to stack them up. You never know when opportunities may come. You’ve just got to make the play when it comes your way.”

The Jaguars need him, too.

Playing alongside as many as seven rookies on offense, including quarterback Blake Bortles, Shorts provides a stabilizing calmness to a unit that has struggled in every game this season.

”I do think there’s a comfort level there,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. ”Blake only starting a couple of games now and kind of saying, `I know Cecil has got a good feel for what we’re trying to get done,’ and we put him in certain spots where we feel if maybe he might be a primary read on a certain play or two.”

Shorts was targeted a team-high 16 times.

”He has a great feel for it, really smart, intelligent,” Bortles said.

Although rookies Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have exceeded early season expectations, Shorts knows the offense better than either of them, runs more precise routes and is usually sure-handed.

His fumble Sunday initially appeared costly, but the Jaguars recovered and got in position to win the game. Josh Scobee’s 55-yard field goal in the waning seconds was blocked.

The Jaguars became the fourth team in NFL history to lose their first six games in consecutive seasons, joining Tampa Bay (1976-77), Houston (1983-84) and Cincinnati (1993-94).

They will try to end a nine-game losing streak Sunday against Cleveland – Shorts’ hometown team.

”Yeah, growing up in Cleveland, all I know is Cleveland,” he said. ”I love the Browns, the Indians, the Cavs. It’s always fun to play against them. It just brings a little more excitement to play against the hometown team.”

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