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Focus on the future: Marqise Lee


(This is the fourth of a series of stories to run this month on young Jaguars players who began developing in 2014 as the future of the franchise.)

JACKSONVILLE – Marqise Lee has a couple of offseason priorities.

One is to continue progress toward graduating from the University of Southern California, and therefore to keep a promise the Jaguars' wide receiver made to himself and his mother.

"I told my mom I would finish, and I spent so much time in school already – I may as well knock it out while I can," Lee said recently with a smile.

That means Lee will spend the first part of his first full NFL offseason taking a few of the five credits he needs to graduate with a degree in sociology. After that, full focus will turn to his other offseason priority:

To take full advantage of that first full offseason.

"I want to focus on being more consistent," Lee said.

Lee, a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, spoke recently after a rookie season in which he was part of a youth movement – at the receiver position and around the entire Jacksonville offense.

The Jaguars last offseason revamped their roster on offense, and by the end of the 2014 season, six rookies had played extensive starting roles, working their way into key roles for the coming season – and possibly beyond.

Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko combined to start 29 games at guard and center, respectively, and quarterback Blake Bortles started the final 13 games of the season. The Jaguars also started second-year left tackle Luke Joeckel and second-year running back Denard Robinson much of the season.

But perhaps nowhere was the rookie movement as prevalent as receiver, where not only Lee, but Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns emerged as rookie starters and potential core players for the future.

Hurns, a rookie free agent from Miami, caught 51 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns, while Robinson – a second-round selection from Penn State – caught 48 passes for 548 yards and two touchdowns.

Lee, after struggling with a hamstring injury early in the season, finished the season having played in 13 games, starting seven. He finished the season with 37 receptions for 422 yards and a touchdown.

Twenty-four of Lee's receptions came in the final six games for 281 yards and a touchdown, and it was just before that time Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said he started seeing a change in Lee.

Bradley said while there was a time around midseason when Lee "had some anxiety," he had some of his best practices as the Jaguars prepared for their Week 10 game against the Dallas Cowboys at Wembley Stadium in London.

"I go back to where he had a couple of good weeks in practice and he didn't play many plays, but he had a big catch," Bradley said. "I think at that point in time it really clicked for him. I don't know if he knew at that time I'll get more reps, but I think he felt more comfortable in the system.

"We challenge our coaches all the time, get him in there. … Let's keep pushing this and see where these guys are at.' I know as far as I'm concerned, we want to keep pushing these guys and see where they're at. Fortunately, Jerry (Sullivan) had that mindset and kept believing in him."

Lee said his improvement late in the season wasn't as much about gaining confidence as it was about staying healthy, and he said while consistency is definitely a goal achieving that at least in part is about avoiding injuries.

"I think that was the biggest thing (about his rookie season) – especially when you have injuries that you haven't had before," he said. "A lot of my injuries consisted of injuries I never had before, that I thought I'd be good with. Now, I know how to treat those injuries where if I do feel something I know how to handle it whereas this year I didn't know how to handle it and I was freaking out and trying to rush things rather than staying calm and coming back like I was supposed to."

Lee said while he will relax for the first month of the offseason to get his body back right, he will then work on his own, focus on releases, speed drills and strength before returning for the team's offseason program, which will begin in mid-April.

"Typical training," he said, adding, "I just want to be there from the get-go. I want to get things going from the beginning. I don't want to wait until the end to get it going. I know what my body needs. That's the main thing – to stay on top of that."

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