JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Justin Blackmon is probably gone for good. Ace Sanders is suspended the first four games of the season. And Cecil Shorts III is hurt once again.
Good thing the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted fellow receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, two second-round picks who could be opening-day starters.
Lee and Robinson have stood out during the first few days of Jacksonville’s training camp – and not just because they’re running with the first-team offense. Lee’s speed and athleticism have provided several highlights, and Robinson’s size and sure hands have been equally impressive.
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”Both of them are coming along and making big plays out there,” quarterback Chad Henne said.
The Jaguars drafted the duo to play behind Shorts and Sanders and eventually step into starting roles. But Sanders’ suspension last week for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy provided more work for the rookies. And Shorts’ latest injury meant even more chances.
”You have to try to take advantage of your opportunities,” Lee said. ”It’s not just learning the plays. There are certain ways you’re supposed to run them, certain ways the coaches want you to do things. So being on the field more gives you a better understanding. Running with the ones helps, too.
”They give you a lot of different looks, which makes you change up the way you do things and gives you a better understanding as far as how things are going to be in the game. Not saying the twos don’t give you that look, but the ones are already experienced and have been going through it for a long period of time.”
The Jaguars have spent several early round draft picks and millions in free agency trying to find a legitimate No. 1 receiver since Jimmy Smith’s heyday.
First-rounders R. Jay Soward (2000), Reggie Williams (2004), Matt Jones (2005) and Blackmon (2012) spent more time in the NFL’s substance-abuse policy than the end zone. Throw in free-agent flops Jerry Porter, Laurent Robinson and Mohamed Massaquoi, and the Jaguars have deal with their share of failure at the position.
So last week’s news was nothing out of the ordinary for the small-market franchise.
Sanders was suspended two days before the start of training camp for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Sanders said ”personal issues” caused his misstep. He said he has ”been dealing with a lot of stuff, just with life and family and a lot of issues going on.” Although the second-year pro from South Carolina is eligible to participate in training camp and preseason games, he has taken a leave of absence to seek counseling.
Blackmon was arrested Wednesday in Oklahoma on a marijuana possession complaint, the latest transgression for the troubled former Oklahoma State star. Blackmon was suspended indefinitely in November for repeated violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy, and the Jaguars aren’t counting on him playing in 2014 – if ever again.
Shorts’ injury was a much more minor setback. He strained his right hamstring in the opening practice of camp. He’s expected to miss at least two weeks, but it’s another setback for a fourth-year pro who hasn’t made it through a full season since college. He has missed 11 games in three years because of injuries.
”You learn to deal with it,” said Shorts, who sat out most of organized team activities with a strained calf. ”It’s always tough when back-to-back injuries happen to you. I’m not going to lie to you: It’s difficult. But I’m going to stay positive about it. Being frustrated is not going to do anything for me so I’m going to stay positive and attack this rehab and get this thing right.”
In the meantime, Lee and Robinson will get most of their repetitions with the starters.
Normally, that might come with growing pains. But since both played in pro-style systems in college – Lee at USC; Robinson at Penn State – they seem to be ahead of the rookie curve.
”At the end of the day, some of things we did in college we’re doing here,” Lee said. ”It’s just different terminology. That’s the positive side of it.”
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