Cecil Shorts has heard it all, and you know what? He's not arguing.
The Jaguars are continuing their off-season program this week. Next week, they begin the on-field part of the off-season. As they do, observers will tell you Shorts must improve, that two receptions – even for a rookie in a struggling offense with a rookie quarterback – just isn't enough.
Shorts hardly disagrees.
"It's the truth," he said this week.
Shorts said it's what you do with that truth – and what you do to turn it into the sort of second season and the sort of career you envision – that matters.
"You have to deal with it," he said. "I don't try to dwell on it too much, but I think I learned from last year. It happened. I didn't want it to happen, but it's reality.
"You learn from it and use it as motivation."
For Shorts, the learning didn't stop during his rookie season.
And in fact, he said what he learned most may have come in the weeks after that.
Shorts, a fourth-round selection from Mount Union, returned to the Division III Ohio university in January. He returned to attend classes, and also to work out. While there, he watched the NFL playoffs, and reflected on his rookie season.
He also spent time with Pierre Garcon.
Garcon, a teammate of Shorts' at Mount Union, caught just four pass in 2008, his rookie season with the Colts. He, like Shorts, struggled to make the transition from Division III to the NFL, and he – like Shorts – entered his second season with many questioning his future.
Garcon moved into a starting role his second season, catching 47 passes. He caught 184 passes for 2,496 yards and 16 touchdowns over the next three seasons, and this past March he signed a $42.5 million contract with Washington.
Garcon's advice this off-season to Shorts was simple.
"He told me, 'Keep doing what you're doing,''' Shorts said. "He said, 'It will be a lot easier your second year. Everything will be fine. You'll know what to expect. Everything will slow down for you.'''
Words and off-season conversations are one thing. It's quite another to develop into a consistent receiver. Shorts said he knows this, that there is work to be done – quickly and efficiently – before next season. The Jaguars are installing a new offense, and he will be working with a new coaching staff, from Head Coach Mike Mularkey to offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowsi to – perhaps most importantly – wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan.
Sullivan, one of the NFL's most-respected coaches, said recently he's not much worried about what the Jaguars' receivers did last year. His focus, he said, is what takes place beginning in mid-April.
Shorts said that's a good thing, and said of Sullivan, "I've heard nothing but good things."
"He's definitely somebody everybody can learn from," he said. "He has a lot of knowledge he can share with all of us, so I'm definitely optimistic."
And while Sullivan has a reputation for being tough on players, Shorts said it's not as if he hasn't experienced tough. His parents have been his support throughout his career, and it is on his parents that Shorts said he depends on the most straightforward, most-important advice. His mother, he said, is honest with a streak of kindness.
"My dad's a straight realist," Shorts said with a laugh. "My father will tell you straight on, whether you want to hear it straight on."
Which Shorts said may be one reason what fans and observers say about his rookie season doesn't bother him all that much.
"He taught me to keep it real with myself," Shorts said, smiling.
Short said his reality now is that his rookie season, no matter how difficult, means nothing. The same is true for outside opinions. He remains confident in his ability, and said his primary objective in the coming months is to restore the confidence with which he played in college.
"I had a confidence level, swagger," he said. "We have a new offense, and new coaches. I just have to prove to them that I can play. I have to go out there and be myself, be like I was in college. I just have to play, and have fun.
"No doubt about it. I know exactly what I need to do."
Shorts said doing that – having fun – didn't happen enough as a rookie. He said there were times he stressed about his play, his performance, and there were times that affected him on the field.
"That's one thing (Jaguars wide receiver) Mike Thomas told me: 'Just go out there and play, let everything come to you,''' he said. "I'm just going to have fun. I know what to expect and I'm confident in my abilities. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't good enough to play.
"Not being successful when you're used to being successful – it was different. I had to check myself a couple of times. It was frustrating and hard to deal with, especially when the team wasn't going well. It was a tough situation all around. It was definitely tough, but I'm looking forward to proving myself this year."
And to a time next off-season when arguments about his future aren't necessary at all.