(Ed. Note—This is the second installment in a five-part series that previews the positional competition in training camp. Today's installment features the wide receivers and tight ends.)
In their hands rest more than the football. In their hands may rest the fate of the Jaguars this season. They are the Jaguars' pass-catchers, and they are the critical players on this team because one of them or all of them have to replace the most productive player in Jaguars history.
Who will be the next Jimmy Smith? Matt Jones? Reggie Williams? Marcedes Lewis? Ernest Wilford?
Smith shocked fans when he announced his retirement just prior to the start of the spring practice season. All of a sudden, the Jaguars were without a number one receiver; without the receiver who led the team in receiving yards each of the last 10 years.
Lewis, Jones and Williams are the Jaguars' last three first-round picks, so, logically, they should be expected to represent the team's starting receiving corps. Jones is currently playing at Smith's "X" receiver position, with Williams at flanker and Lewis likely to become the team's top pass-catching tight end.
Then there's Wilford, who led the Jaguars in touchdown catches (seven) and yards per catch (16.6) last season. Wilford was second to Smith in receptions (41) and yards (681), and Wilford asks, "Why not me?" Yeah, why not Wilford, who goes into training camp as Williams' backup and the Jaguars' number three wide receiver.
All eyes are on Jones. He would seem to be the player who has the best chance of achieving stardom. Jones' rookie season was dedicated to making the transition from college quarterback to pro wide receiver. Now, he's being counted on to make the transition from prospect to play-maker.
Williams was the ninth pick of the 2004 draft. He has yet to have the kind of breakout season expected of a top 10 pick and he'll be given every opportunity in this training camp and preseason to express his talents. This could be the make-or-break year of Williams' career.
Wilford is a former fourth-round pick who lacks speed but seems to always find a way to make plays. If he jumps up again in this summer's training camp and in the preseason games, his ability must be acknowledged with increased playing time.
Behind those three wide receivers are a couple of veterans, a second-year guy who warrants consideration, and a handful of others fighting for roster or practice squad consideration.
This is the make-or-break year for Cortez Hankton. He's got size, some speed and good hands. He was defeated by nagging injuries last summer. This summer, he needs to stay healthy and prove he can be more than just a guy on the roster.
The Jaguars signed Troy Edwards, who they cut last summer. Edwards is a veteran who knows how to play the game and gives the team some insurance at the position. Any chance he has of making the team rests with the dependability he offers.
Chad Owens was a big hit last summer in his rookie camp. Owens was drafted to be a punt-returner, but if he's going to make the team this year, it'll probably have to be as a pass-catcher. He'll be given the chance.
Randy Hymes, Fred Stamps, Kahlil Hill, Charles Sharon and Felton Huggins are all facing uphill battles. The Jaguars kept six wide receivers at the start of last season, but that included Owens, who was considered more of a return man.
Kyle Brady remains the Jaguars' starting tight end, based almost solely on Brady's reputation as one of the game's best blocking tight ends. The team drafted Lewis in the first round to become the down-the-seam pass-catcher they've lacked. Coach Jack Del Rio's hope is that Lewis' presence in the middle of the field will open up the outside for his tall wide receivers.
George Wrighster can catch a little and block a little, and he could make a significant move forward in his career this summer if he does a little more of each.
Brian Jones is a pass-catching tight end who will probably lose opportunities to Lewis. Jones will be forced to seek a higher level of performance this summer.
Todd Yoder is coming off a season lost to knee reconstruction. Yoder adds quality depth at tight end, but his real contribution has to be on special teams.
The Jaguars kept five tight ends on their roster last season.