His is not a new story. It's acted out every summer in every training camp in the league. But it's a story that never ceases to be entertaining because it's all about the underdog, and football fans love the underdog. Matt Cherry is a long-shot wide receiver in a training camp whose top draft choice is a wide receiver; a ninth-pick-of-the-draft wide receiver. Cherry didn't play in the bright lights of major college football, wasn't invited to play in a postseason all-star game, and wasn't even considered worthy of the NFL's college scouting combine. Too bad they didn't see this morning's practice. Too bad all of those who looked down their nose at Cherry haven't been in Jacksonville this spring and summer. What they would have seen is a kid who has performed consistently enough to put himself in contention to make the Jaguars roster. From the time in late April when Jack Del Rio anointed Cherry "this year's Cortez Hankton (last year's star rookie free agent)," to the bomb Cherry pulled in from Byron Leftwich this morning, the kid from Akron has been nothing short of outstanding. He has the coach's eye and with a solid preseason performance Cherry would be a major name at roster-decision time. "He had a nice scrimmage. He's converted what he did in shorts practices to padded practices," Gene Smith, the Jaguars' director of college scouting, said. "He's a fringe guy. The telling story on a backup receiver will be special teams." Cherry is facing a prove-it-to-me challenge. It's that way for undrafted rookies. The salary cap offers them no protection. Reggie Williams is going to make this team regardless of his preseason performance; the cap tells us that. But Cherry can't have a bad day. It's that way for the undrafted guys. "This is a tall mountain to climb. I just want to be here," Cherry said. "If I'm consistent, I think I'll have a real good chance of making the team; just make the routine catches," he added. Cherry has made more than routine catches. He made a diving, two-feet-in-bounds grab near the goal line in Friday night's scrimmage. He pulled in a couple of heaves in Saturday's mock game. Cherry was clearly the most effective of all the Jaguars' receivers this morning, when he showed speed most didn't know he had. "You saw him get open today. His speed is good enough," wide receivers coach Ken Anderson said. "I think he's holding his own with everybody. He's made plays." Cherry's career was compromised by a couple of twists of fate. He played at a high school in Chicago that ran the option and, as a result, he wasn't recruited for college football until he turned heads at the University of Michigan's summer football camp. He was a big-time performer at Akron, where Cherry caught 149 passes in three seasons, but he suffered injuries to both elbows in the final game of his college career. Surgery was performed on both bursar sacs, which then became infected. His offseason was dedicated to recovery, and that caused him to fall through the cracks of the scouting process. The Jaguars found him in a game against Cal Poly-SLO. In fact, the Jaguars found cornerback David Richardson in that game, too. Now, Cherry and Richardson are two of the Jaguars' leading contenders among the team's undrafted class. "I'm real hard on myself. I don't feel like I'm anywhere near my potential. I don't even think I've had that good of a camp, to be honest with you," Cherry said. "I didn't get a $2 million signing bonus. I'm out here check to check," he added. It's an old story, but it never ceases to be interesting.
Del Rio welcomed his players back from their day off by putting them through wind sprints at the end of practice. "Always, as a coach, you're concerned, when you have a little time off, of regaining focus. I thought we started out very well. I thought as practice went on we started thinking about that time off a little bit too much, so we ran a little bit afterwards to get their attention, to get their focus back," Del Rio said. "I thought the passing game – a couple of new plays were put in – had some success getting after the defense. Early in camp, defense had its way. This morning, the offense came back and had a couple strikes," he added. Wide receiver Jimmy Smith sat out the practice with a sore back.