JACKSONVILLE – Keelan Cole, who originally signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent shortly after the 2017 NFL Draft, played a key role in the offense last season. After playing collegiately at Division II Kentucky Wesleyan, Cole played in 16 games and started six in 2017; he caught 42 passes for a team-high 748 yards and three touchdowns. Cole recently sat down with senior writer John Oehser, discussing a variety of topics including his 2017 season and his expectations entering the 2018 offseason …
Question: Tell me about your offseason. How are you approaching things entering Year 2?
A: I took two or three weeks off right after the season. Since then, I've been trying to better myself and figure out what I can do to come back improved. I don't much else except hang out with my son [two-year-old Keelan] and get time with him. Football was my hobby before it was my job; that's all I was doing anyway, so that's all I do.
Q: A year ago this time, you were getting ready for the 2017 NFL Draft – and you weren't drafted. Do you ever stop to think how far you've come in a year?
A: I actually thought about that this week. I was like, 'Dang, that's a lot of different processes to go through.' Everything was happening so fast and now it's about to be a full year. I have no regrets at all and that's what I want to live to: You only get so long to do this football thing. The only thing I can think about is making the best of every day and making sure every day's productive in some way. That's what I think about – that it's not going to be here forever.
Q: How much more do you expect to get out of this offseason than last offseason simply because you know more about what to do, what to expect?
A: That's exactly it – I know what to expect. I know my coaches. I know what they want to see of me. I've been here and I know who to talk to about what to improve. Last year, I didn't have that because I wasn't in the league; all you can do is try to figure it out by yourself or from who you're training with. Most of the time the people you're training with don't know because they haven't played football; they're trainers. You don't know what you're doing before you get here, then you know exactly what you need to work on. Then, it's as simple as that—just going out and doing what you need to do.
Q: Not every player looks forward to OTAs (organized team activities) and the offseason program. It strikes me that you might be excited to get going …
A: In my mind, OTAs don't start with OTAs. OTAs start before OTAs. You can't come into OTAs not ready for OTAs just like you can't come into [training] camp not ready for camp. I could have easily taken more than those two-and-a-half weeks after the season, but you have to be ready.
Q: The wide receiver room is going to be different this season. Veterans Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are gone – now with Chicago and Dallas, respectively. That's a big change …
A: It's crazy, because we had so many in-and-outs last year that it's pretty normal to see different faces. They [Hurns and Robinson] are always a call away. We all have our own lives, but I talk to them enough to be in contact – and when I see them we're not strangers. That room we had last year … we were close. I doubt it will be anything different next season. We're going to bring the new ones into the relationship.
Q: How much confidence did the end of last season give you? When you enter the NFL as a rookie, you may think you can play – but you don't really know until you see yourself do it …
A: I'm more confident now because of the film I watched after the season. I went back and watched a whole season of film – playoffs and all. I know my flaws and I know what I need to work on. I build my confidence on, 'OK, now I know what I need to do.' It was about fixing small mistakes so you can work to be perfect. We all know it's not easy to do – but that's what I'm working toward.
Q: Did it take a while last season to realize, "I can do this at this level?"
A: It's just being realistic. The techniques I was seeing from defensive backs at this level I hadn't seen before, so of course it was to take time. My confidence came from, "Regardless of how much I know, I'm going to go out and try to win." I couldn't just go out and say, "Well, he's better than me." I was going to learn from my mistakes and I was going to fix it as soon as I learned it. If a defensive back jammed me up one time with a specific technique, then I would know next time that I can't get jammed that way and not to allow that to happen. I was learning as I was going through it.
Q: When did you know, 'OK, I can do this ?'"
A: There wasn't really a time when that happened because I knew my role. I knew when coach told me, 'You have to go out on special teams' that I was going out on special teams. I really just relied on the coaches to believe in me, then I went out and did exactly what they said to do. With the coaches we have here, it's as simple as that. We have a lot of experienced coaches, definitely the one I have [wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell] – that's 17 years right there playing receiver. If you can't learn anything from him, you can't learn anything at all. All you have to do is ask a question and he's going to answer it.
Q: Did you spend time this offseason watching other receivers?
A: For sure. I try to stay realistic: [Atlanta Falcons wide receiver] Julio is Julio; he's 6-feet-3, 220 pounds. But there are things I may be able to take from him. I can't be a big receiver, but I can work to try to play big with the confidence he has. [Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver] Keenan Allen's route running … I may not have the strong legs he has, but I can work to have strong legs and use the things he can do in his routes. I may not have [Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver] Antonio Brown's quickness, but I can try to be as quick and working on technique. Those guys post workouts on YouTube, so if I can see what kind of workouts these guys are doing and see how they train – little things like that I take from them.
Q: So you really are obsessed with this thing. You're living it.
A: It's like I said, 'Football was a hobby before it was my job.' It's all I do and you only get so much time. I was training this offseason but I also was hanging out with other players. I went down to train with Hurns because that was somebody I went through a season with. I saw what he could do. Next year I'll probably hang with [Jaguars wide receiver] Marqise [Lee] and see how he trains. These are people who have been in the league four or five years; I'm trying to keep up with their mentality. If I can be a five-year vet mentally, then I'm ahead of the game because I've only been in the league one year. If I can play like a five-year vet my second year in the league, then I'm three years ahead.
Q: You had a very productive season for a rookie coming from the Division II level. But it sounds like you believe you've just scratched the surface …
A: I feel like the sky's the limit. My goal is to absorb anything I can from anybody. It doesn't have to be a receiver. You can learn from anybody. I'm sure if I call [Jaguars defensive end] Calais [Campbell], he has some tips even though I don't know anything about being 6-6, 300 pounds and going against an offensive lineman. I'm sure he has something to help me be a better football player and teammate.