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Making strides


Without question, Wednesday surprised Jarett Dillard.

"It was shocking," Dillard said.

But Dillard said Thursday although few around the Jaguars expected veteran wide receiver Jason Hill to be released Wednesday, or for wide receivers coach Johnny Cox to be fired, the reality for he and the rest of the Jaguars' receiving corps is clear:

Improvement is expected. And now is the chance to do just that.

 "You have to look at everything as there are pluses and minuses in every situation," Dillard said as the Jaguars (3-8) prepared to play the San Diego Chargers (4-7) at EverBank Field in downtown Jacksonville Monday at 8:30 p.m.

For Dillard and the rest of the Jaguars' remaining receivers, the plus is this:

With Hill no longer on the roster, there is opportunity for a group of young players to get more playing time in the final five games of the season.

Dillard worked with the starting unit in practice Thursday, though interim coach Mel Tucker said whoever starts Sunday will have earned it in practice this week. It's also possible that rookie Cecil Shorts will work extensively in three-receiver practices Sunday, and Chastin West, Brian Robiskie and Kassim Osgood also could play a larger role.

"I told that group I believe in them and that the wide receivers can be a productive group for this football team and that's that what the expectation is," Tucker said. "The eye contract I got from that group was sincere. I thought it was positive."

Dillard said the release of Hill surprised the entire receiving corps. He had caught 25 passes for 367 yards this season with a team-high three touchdowns.

"Jason is our leading receiver as far as numbers, so it was shocking," Dillard said. "We have to roll with it. This is the NFL. It happens across the league anywhere. It's not like this is any different than any other team. This happens. You have to roll with it and take advantage of the opportunities you're given."

Said West, "You don't want to see a guy lose his job – same thing with Johnny. It's all about how you play. That's how I feel. You're going to play more based on your play, not by default. Every week I've always prepared like I was playing, so I'm not going to change that.

"I'll miss J. Hill and I'll see him in the off-season, but I just have to keep playing."

With Cox out, Mike Sheppard – the quarterbacks coach the first 11 games of the season – moved to receivers coach, with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter assuming Sheppard's role working with quarterbacks. Veteran wide receiver Mike Thomas said Sheppard immediately presented the receivers with a list of things he expects from receivers, with "catching the ball" high on the list.

Asked what Sheppard emphasized, Thomas said, "Just simple things that make good habits with receivers. He's a guy for details. He's a guy about playing hard. I know he respects the game."

Said Dillard, "He came in with a tenacity. He said he has seen it all. He had different themes he taught us. We'll take what he's coaching us and we're going to be successful with it."

The Jaguars' receivers this season have struggled at times with dropped passes, and as a group they have caught 84 passes for 992 and five touchdowns.

Tucker said he saw improvement from the area Thursday.

"I wasn't surprised with the results we got on the field today," Tucker said. "I thought we had a better day from that group a whole."

Also around the Jaguars Thursday:

*Gabbert discussed his first day working with Koetter as quarterbacks coach. "Football is still football. Dirk was always in there with us, but Coach [Mike] Sheppard is coaching the receivers now and he's going to do a great job. He's a phenomenal coach for wide receivers and quarterbacks. We're still going to be working a lot together but Dirk will be in our room from now on."

*Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who has missed the last three games with a deep bruise in his ankle, said he's feeling better and plans to try to play against San Diego Monday. "I think I can," he said. "I just have to be smart about it. I won't know until Saturday how it feels." Knighton said he hopes to try to work more Friday and participate in individual drills. "If I didn't have a capable backup, I might have rushed myself, but I'm confident in (backup) C.J. (Mosley) and I didn't have to rush back," he said.

*Aside from Knighton, defensive end Matt Roth was the only player who didn't participate in practice Thursday. He hasn't practiced or played since sustaining a concussion in Cleveland on November 20.

*Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, fullback Greg Jones and running back Maurice Jones-Drew were limited for non-injury reasons.

*Fullback Brock Bolen (calf), defensive end John Chick (abdomen), defensive end Aaron Kampman (hamstring), wide receiver Brian Robiskie (hamstring) and offensive tackle Guy Whimper (thigh) practiced limited while wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) worked full.

*Tucker said the Jaguars will work more extensively in practice on two-minute drill and other specific situations. "We have more situational reps in two-minute in practice," he said. "Situation football is huge. A large percentage of games are determined in the last two minutes of a game. All of those situations we have to execute at a high level."

*Running back Maurice Jones-Drew spoke about the events around the team not only this week, but this season. The Jaguars not only faced the lockout in the off-season, they have had three starting quarterbacks, have changed coaches and on Tuesday, owner Wayne Weaver announced the sale of the team to Shahid Khan. "Just think of what all of the rookies have had to deal with," Jones-Drew said. "You've seen starting quarterbacks get cut. You've seen a team being sold, a head coach getting fired, a lockout. This is a busy year to be a Jaguar. In my six years I've seen more than I think what most guys have seen in their whole career. So it's a wakeup call. It's definitely a class of Business 101; you get to see what the NFL is really like. Hopefully it's opened some of the eyes on guys and they understand what it's about."

*Jones-Drew on the release of Hill: "It's a business. It's tough because I actually grew up with Jason so that was tough to kind of swallow. It's a business and if they feel you're not producing, I think somebody told me this is the epitome of a production-based business here. It's easy to see if you're not producing in this league. And if you're not and they feel like they can't use you, they're going to get rid of you."

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