Justin Blackmon’s road through the NFL this season has not been paved with gold.
A DUI in the offseason followed by a lengthy holdout did not help endear him to the Jacksonville Jaguars or its fans. The rookie had been sluggish or simply lost in direction at times, cutting routes off or missing key passes the team had to have to move the chains.
Up until last Sunday, he would have been considered a bust, and if the Jaguars faithful had wanted to blame Gene Smith for another draft blunder, they could have done so without much objection.
But this past Sunday, the light bulb went on.
A record-setting day, precision pass routes and the look of Michael Irvin against one of the NFL’s best defenses, and now Blackmon is considered one of the best rookie receivers in the league. He has 33 catches so far this season.
Funny how that happens.
The Jaguars, 1-9 on the season, are hoping the next six games are the start of a new season and a look toward 2013. It all begins with Blackmon and his new throwing mate, Chad Henne.
Watching the Jaguars in their 43-37 loss last week at the hands of the Houston Texans, the Jaguars teased fans with Henne’s ability to throw down the field and Blackmon’s ability to catch everything that came his way. This wasn’t a stagnant offense that was begging for the running of Maurice Jones-Drew to come in and save them.
(By the way, Jones-Drew is still out with a foot injury. It has not been determined when he will return.)
Blackmon was so good last week that we all have to wonder if this was the “light” turning on for the Oklahoma State receiver, or has the passing game of Blaine Gabbert held him back because the team relied on short and intermediate passes that did not stretch the field?
Cecil Shorts has had his moments this year, but he has been the only receiver until last Sunday that was targeted with consistency on long passing routes.
Blackmon must become the star everyone envisioned him to be after this team traded up to take him with the fifth pick in the draft. He must look every bit as good as he did last week, and while 237 yards may be too much to ask this week, he must catch passes, block and run precise routes. Anything else will be a disappointment.
Henne and the Jaguars offense could be a veritable juggernaut against the Tennessee Titans this weekend. The team moved well with Henne in the huddle. The receivers looked sharper and more confident. The offensive line was tougher and the running game, even without MJD, was productive. If all that stays the same, then great, it is a sign of things to come.
But the real test for this team will be if their star receiver can prove last week wasn’t a fluke, translating the success of one week into a more significant role in the Jaguars offense.
If the Jaguars are to make any improvement, then Blackmon must deliver again in a big way.