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Receivers ready for opportunity

Posted Dec 8, 2012

Kevin Elliott, group of young wide receivers, will replace Cecil Shorts for Jacksonville Jaguars against New York Jets Sunday

The current circumstances are far from easy.

Still, Jaguars rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon said this week difficult situations don’t matter. It’s the NFL, and in the NFL you’re expected to produce.

So, just because there are injuries, including one to a player emerging as your best receiver, and just because the task is daunting . . .

Well, that doesn’t mean there can’t be offense.

And it doesn’t mean you can’t win.

“You just have to keep it going,” Blackmon said as the Jaguars (2-10) prepared to play the New York Jets (5-7) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

On the surface, that appears a difficult task.

It’s not that the Jaguars haven’t produced offensively in the last month. During that time, particularly since Chad Henne took over for Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, the passing offense has gone through its most productive stretch of the season.

Henne in three games has thrown for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns, throwing four touchdowns in a 43-37 overtime loss to Houston, two more in a victory over Tennessee and one late in rain and heavy wind in a 34-18 loss at Buffalo last week.

For an offense that has struggled much of the season, that’s an uptick from the first nine games, but this week, there are obstacles and concerns beyond the early struggles.

First, the Jaguars are not only without starting running back Maurice Jones-Drew, they’re without backup Rashad Jennings (six starts this season) and Jalen Parmele, the latter whom started two weeks ago before sustaining a season-ending groin injury.

Montell Owens, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with 112 career rushing yards, will make his first career start at running back.

Injuries also have taken a toll at wide receiver.

“We’ve had a lot of guys in, and a number of the guys that we have in now have been here about two weeks,” Jaguars offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. “So it’s a crash course for all of them, but they’re doing a good job.”

Cecil Shorts, the team’s leading receiver this season with 824 yards and seven touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass in each of the last four games. He has emerged as one of the NFL’s top big-play wide receivers, with four receptions of more than 50 yards this season, a franchise record.

He will miss Sunday’s game with a concussion. With Laurent Robinson already having been placed on injured reserve with a concussion, the Jaguars will start free agent rookie Kevin Elliott opposite Blackmon, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft.

 Jordan Shipley, who has played two games since being signed by the Jaguars as a free agent in late November, will play the slot receiver role he played the last two weeks, with rookie Toney Clemons and veteran Quan Cosby – each of whom signed as a free agent in late November – backing up Blackmon and Elliott on the outside.

“It’s a big opportunity when you get a chance to go in and make plays,” Clemens said. “It’s something I’ve been preparing for my whole life. It’s a great opportunity to prove I’m capable of playing at this level at a high level.”

Said Shipley, “We’ve got a big challenge, but we’ve prepared well. Everybody’s been looking good in practice, so we’re excited.”

Bratkowski said at times the situation could limit options offensively.

“We have to kind of keep it in some instances as vanilla as we can, but yet enough there where we give ourselves a chance,” he said.

The situation at receiver also makes it difficult on Henne, a starter in 2009 and 2010 for the Miami Dolphins. In addition to working into the starter’s role, he now also is working to develop timing with receivers also learning the offense.

“It’s difficult because you’re talking about completely different timing with guys,” Bratkowski said. “You’re reading their body language. The trust factor, does he know what he’s doing here.  So it’ll put a little bit extra on him, but he’s just got to trust him and go because there’s really nothing he can do or anybody can do about it.”

A focal point throughout the week also has been the readiness of Elliott, who has been a top gunner on special teams all season, but who will be making his first NFL start.

“My coach told me earlier this week, ‘It’s a chance in a lifetime in a lifetime full of chances,” Elliott said.

Elliott, a free-agent rookie from Florida A&M, played his way into a roster spot in training camp and preseason, and has been active in every regular-season game. He has caught seven passes for 70 yards this season, but while he has shown flashes of being a physical, effective receiver, Bratkowski and Head Coach Mike Mularkey each said this week he has struggled at times with mental errors.

“We’ve got to get that part out of him for him to be a consistent player and somebody the quarterbacks can trust,” Bratkowski said. “So he’s getting better at it but he’s just got to get that part out of him before he can be a consistent player that the quarterbacks can trust.”

That’s typical of the rookie process, and it’s a process he said must show production now that he has the opportunity.

“During the week is the most important time to get ready for the games on Sunday,” Elliott said. “Going through the plays in your head and making the plays in practice. That’s what I’m working on, the little things. I’m excited to make plays out there.

“We’re definitely going to miss Cecil. He’s Big-Play Cec, but we shouldn’t have a drop-off at all. We’re stepping in there, very capable of making the same plays, so we should be just fine.”

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