JACKSONVILLE – The only certainty was uncertainty.
That was the case for the Jaguars' wide receivers throughout 2013, and from that perspective, Jerry Sullivan said the group had a good season.
No, Justin Blackmon wasn't there the entire season.
And if that hurt, injuries to nearly every other receiver did, too. At the same time, the Jaguars' receivers maintained a level of productivity throughout last season, productivity that helped the offense as a whole improve in the second half of the season.
"I thought we adjusted as we went," Sullivan, the Jaguars' wide receivers coach since 2012, said recently in an interview with jaguars.com for this series on the Jaguars' position groups, a series that continues with this story focusing on wide receivers.
"Guys stepped up when they had to."
Indeed, if Next Man Up was the Jaguars' mantra this season, it was particularly true at receiver.
By season's end nine players had played wide receiver, with six starting and eight catching at least one pass. Five different receivers caught at least eight passes for a group that dealt not only with injuries, but the loss for much of the season of the team's top receiver.
Blackmon, a second-year veteran and the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, was suspended for the first four games of the season, and after catching 29 passes for 415 yards in Weeks 5-8, was suspended indefinitely for the final eight games of the season.
Elsewhere, it was injuries that kept receivers off the field.
Not only did leading receiver Cecil Shorts III miss the final three games with a sports hernia injury, Mike Brown missed five games, including four consecutive games in September and early October. Rookie Ace Sanders missed a Week 7 loss to San Diego.
Shorts finished the season on injured reserve, as did two receivers acquired in September – Stephen Williams and Stephen Burton – and Jeremy Ebert, who finished on IR after going back and forth from the active roster to the practice squad much of the season.
By the season's final game, the receiving corps was Brown, Kerry Taylor, Lamaar Thomas and Sanders. None had caught an NFL pass before 2013.
"We kind of had to make do with what we had down the stretch, and a lot of guys came in and did a nice job filling in," Sullivan said. "It was a game of checkers all year, really. Guys kind of stepped up and played with some passion. Guys played about as well as they were capable of playing."
The most difficult moves may have come after Blackmon's second suspension.
Blackmon's return from Week 5-8 improved the passing offense significantly. Blackmon averaged just under 104 yards a game receiving, and the offense went from averaging 175 yards per game passing without Blackmon in Weeks 1-4 to 265 yards per game passing with him.
The Jaguars slipped without Blackmon, but still averaged more than 210 yards passing in the second half of the season – 35 yards more per game than in Weeks 1-4. Sullivan said that while receivers contributed to the improvement, so too did quarterback Chad Henne.
"He was handicapped by having to learn different people each week," Sullivan said. "That's not an easy thing to do at times. Between the mixture of Chad hanging tough with different guys and (offensive coordinator) Jedd (Fisch) mixing it up and taking advantage of what guys can do – their strengths, we pushed through.
"Nobody said, 'Woe is me.' They all accepted where we were and went out every week like we'd been together for 10 years."
Shorts for a second consecutive season led the Jaguars in receiving yards, not only playing through an injured AC joint late in the first half of the season but playing through the sports hernia injury throughout most of the season. He caught 66 passes for 777 yards and three touchdowns.
"He did a great job," Sullivan said. "He played above and beyond the call this year. The bottom line is he did what you hope a lot of guys would do and played when a lot of guys wouldn't play.
"It just finally got to the point late in the season that he couldn't go anymore."
With Blackmon unavailable, Sanders and Brown had bigger roles than expected, with Brown – a first-year veteran – catching 32 passes for 446 yards and two touchdowns and Sanders catching 51 passes for 484 yards and a touchdown.
Sanders, a rookie fourth-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft from South Carolina, began the season outside because of Blackmon's suspension and finished the season in his more natural slot position. He finished strong, with 35 of his receptions for 313 yards in the last seven games of the season.
"I thought he did a nice job of handling the situation," Sullivan said. "We started him the first game of the year at flanker back because we were short-handed. He adjusted through the course of the year. We worked to his strengths and for the most part he had his legs under him by the end of the season."
The Jaguars' wide receivers as a group caught 210 passes for 2,436 yards and eight touchdowns, and though Sullivan said those numbers were far from ideal, he said given the circumstances, "I thought production-wise, as a group, we did OK.
"We weren't the Denver Broncos, but it could have been a lot worse," Sullivan said. "(Jaguars Head Coach) Gus (Bradley) is about, 'Play hard, play together and no woe is me.' I thought our guys did that."