The goal shouldn't be 256.9 yards per game, but it’s a good number to aim for if you are the Jacksonville Jaguars' receiver corps. That is the number the 1996 Jaguars receivers notched when they led the NFL in receiving yards, and the most the team has ever earned. Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Co. will look to improve upon last year’s unimpressive number of 136.2.
Yards: 256.9. That would have been good for ninth in the NFL. Going from 32nd to ninth in one category would be an absolutely incredible achievement, and in order to do that, it may take drastic changes. The Jaguars made drastic changes during the offseason, but were they the right changes?
I mentioned Justin Blackmon in a write-up earlier this summer here. I won't repeat that assessment, but after watching him in the three preseason games he played in, we know a little bit more about what he is going to look like this year.
Blackmon showed incredible strength throughout the preseason, beating defensive backs to the ball, and pulling away from them. His strong, soft hands accumulated 10 receptions for 136 yards. For the most part, him and quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked like they had a good chemistry, keeping in mind that they’ve only been working together for a few weeks.
The Jaguars also brought in free-agent Laurent Robinson after a breakout season with the Dallas Cowboys. I’ve always liked Robinson, even in his St. Louis Rams days. Despite the anticipation to recreate his success with the Cowboys, he only had two receptions for 18 yards this preseason.
During the preseason, Robinson played the role of the deep threat, to clear the underneath receiver. He was the victim of a couple pass interference calls that equated to making the reception and being immediately tackled.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, in Game 4, we saw Gabbert try to hit Robinson on his fly route that would have been a sure 61-yard touchdown, but the ball grazed off the fingertips of Robinson and it ended up empty.
As a side note, did that chance remind any of you Jaguars fans of those 1996 plays? It would have been on par with those receivers’ long for the year. Jimmy Smith’s longest reception that year was 62 yards; Keenan McCardell’s was 52 yards; Willie Jackson’s was 58 yards; and Andre Rison’s was 61 yards.
That play did sum up the preseason for those two, though. Gabbert and Robinson, even though they’ve had a little bit more time than Gabbert and Blackmon, were always just an inch or a second off what they should be. Blackmon and Gabbert have actually been a little more consistent. Though on one particular play during that Atlanta game, Blackmon ran a wheel route to the end zone and Gabbert was looking for him to run an out. Again, a play that resulted in an incomplete pass.
On the fly routes that Gabbert didn’t go for the home run ball with Robinson, he was able to look at the underneath receiver, Mike Thomas, for good chunks of yardage; he earned 13 receptions for 161 yards. Having Robinson attract the defenders has made Thomas, the lone returning starter form the 2011 receiver corps, look a lot better than he did a year ago.
Behind those three starters, the Jaguars are entering the 2012 season with second-year receiver Cecil Shorts III, who appeared in 10 games for the Jaguars in 2011.
Shorts looked like a great find before the season started last year. But he made the transition from a Division III school (Mount Union) to the NFL look like going from a one-line side part in a community stage production, to headlining a show on Broadway. He disappeared on Sunday, and didn’t live up to his preseason potential.
This past preseason, he competed with Mike Thomas for the slot receiver position. He looked like the receiver he looked like he was going to be last year, but ended up losing the job to Thomas.
The second and only other returner from the 2011 team is the 6’4’’ Brian Robiskie. Robiskie actually started the year with the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him in the second round in 2009, but was claimed in November before the Jaguars put him on IR the next month.
The sixth and final receiver on the Jaguars' active roster is an undrafted rookie gem, Kevin Elliott. Elliott impressed with strength and speed on a 77-yard touchdown reception during the Atlanta game. Kevin Elliott is a talent that new receivers coach Jerry Sullivan can and will coach up. The arrow is pointed straight up for Elliott, but at least in the early portion of the 2012 season, it is too soon for him to show a lot of production. In the meantime, he will earn his living on special teams.
These receivers are probably not capable of reaching that 256.9 mark, but they and this scheme, will certainly not post the same 136.2 mark of a year ago.