So far, Johnny Cox likes what he has seen. And what he has heard.
When it comes to Cecil Shorts III, Cox – entering his first season as the Jaguars' wide receivers coach – said the first thing to remember about the rookie wide receiver from Mount Union is precisely that:
He's a rookie, and that means working to improve.
It also means working to earn playing time, and a spot in an ascending rotation.
But Cox said while that's true, this is, too:
Shorts has potential, and with work, there's little question he can make a contribution.
"He has a chance to get playing time this year, but he definitely will have to earn it," Cox said of Shorts, who the Jaguars recently made a fourth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, the 121stplayer selected overall.
"We've got some focused receivers who want to contribute. We have a young group that's getting better, so it's not going to be easy. But that's what you're shooting for."
Shorts (6-feet, 193 pounds), who played at Collinwood (Ohio) High School, began his career at Mount Union as a quarterback, and after switching to wide receiver, emerged as not only one of the best small-college players in the country, but one of the best receivers in Mount Union history.
Shorts switched permanently to wide receiver as a sophomore in 2008, catching 77 passes for 1,484 yards and 23 touchdowns. He then caught 100 passes for 1,776 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2009 before catching 70 passes for 1,196 yards and 18 touchdowns while missing three games as a senior.
"He definitely had a productive career," Cox said.
Shorts, a three-time All-America selection, finished his career with 259 receptions for 4,705 yards and 63 touchdowns, with the receiving yardage total the third-highest in NCAA Division III history.
Cox said Shorts is a fundamentally sound receiver with explosiveness, and at times, he can be a deep threat.
"He has exceptional hands – that's one of his strong points," Cox said. "I wouldn't say all the time he's going to run by everybody, but he has shown speed."
Cox, who spent the past two years as the Jaguars' offensive quality control coach, said he spoke to Shorts during the pre-draft process. During that time, he said he got a feel for Shorts' knowledge and character, and "how he is going to fit into the room."
"We already have a base that this guy's going to be sharp and he's going to be able to learn everything," Cox said. "He's going to fit in well. He's going to be a hard worker, so we have that foundation already set. Now, we have to get him acclimated.
"I want to see his exact learning style. What's the best way for him to learn? Is he a visual learner, or is he better doing reps? You want to try to figure what the best way is for him, then get him up to speed as quickly as possible.
"In order to that, we have to make sure he has the foundation and an understanding of the offense – how everything works, our system and how everything is built."
Wide receiver, because of the need to learn multiple routes, schemes and formations, can be a difficult position for a rookie. That theoretically could be more difficult for a player entering the NFL from a Division III level as opposed to Division I.
Cox, a two-time Division II All-America selection at Fort Lewis College, doesn't necessarily believe in the theory.
"It's going to be an adjustment no matter what," Cox said. "You really look at the traits. Based off those, I think that will allow him to be put in different spots to be successful.
"It's a process for everybody. It will depend on how much time and effort he puts into learning. It seems like his makeup will make it a short time for him."
Cox when speaking of Shorts emphasized that he is very definitely just a rookie, and that means earning a place in a solid, young receiving corps that already includes Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Jason Hill.
Thomas led the Jaguars last season with 66 receptions for 820 yards and four touchdowns, and Hill caught 11 passes for 248 yards a touchdown. Dillard has missed significant time his first two seasons with injuries, but in that group there is a belief that the Jaguars have the core of a solid group of receivers.
With work, Cox said Shorts has a chance to be part of that group.
"I'm very excited," Cox said. "I think he's going to be a great addition to the wide receiving corps. He's a very solid receiver – very well-coached, very hard worker. There's a foundation we hope to build on."