Where there was once a void, there is now a crowd.
When Todd Monken was handed the job as coach of the Jaguars' wide receivers, he inherited a couple of first-round draft choices for whom expectations were high, despite every indication they had been overdrafted. Those players are gone now, replaced last year by a draft class of receivers that appear to have rebuilt the position quickly.
"We've got a lot of eager guys that want to prove they're capable of starting, to be a big part of our offense in the NFL. Getting them to do the little things is not hard," Monken said of his wide receivers.
Mike Sims-Walker and Troy Williamson were already with the Jaguars when Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood were selected in the 2009 draft. Another receiver, tight end/fullback/wide receiver Zach Miller, was also picked in '09. How's that for rebuilding a receiving corps?
Sims-Walker had started a grand total of one game when those kids were picked, and Williamson was desperately attempting to salvage a career that began as a top 10 pick in Minnesota. Suffice to say, there was no comfort zone for Monken, Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter or quarterback David Garrard. It was start-over time at wide receiver and that was fine with everyone.
"There's nothing really built, yet. I think it just worked out that you had a number of guys in that one year," Monken said.
These are good times for Monken because he's got what coaches like to refer to as a "good group of guys." It's coaching parlance for coachable players who listen, do as they're told and work overtime.
"Mike has really matured, in terms of the way he approaches getting coached and works in the weight room and on the field. He doesn't put up his guard as often. It's just normal to put up a wall. He's working harder and he's been able to stay healthy," Monken said of Thomas, a fourth-round pick in '09.
Thomas has been one of the stars of this training camp, which will end in a few days with Thomas rooted as the team's number two receiver. One of the Jaguars' goals in this camp was to find a two and it appears they have.
Underwood came out of nowhere in spring OTAs to show big-play ability General Manager Gene Smith believed Underwood possessed when Smith picked the skinny kid from Rutgers in round seven. That big-play ability was hidden for most of last season on the practice squad inside a body that was too frail to compete in this league. A year later, Underwood is bigger and more confident.
"Tiquan wants to be a great player. He's done a great job keeping his weight up. At one point last year he was 10 pounds lighter than he is now. He's a great kid and he works at it," Monken said.
Jarett Dillard, a fifth-round pick last year, just came off PUP recently. Dillard suffered a broken leg at midseason last year in a game against the Jets. He was just starting to come on when the bone broke along the sideline in Giants Stadium.
"He wasn't fully healed in OTAs, or at least he wasn't comfortable. He hasn't been himself in seven months. Even now, he's not there, yet, but the one thing about Jarett is he's going to catch the football," Monken said.
What this all means is that a team that once struggled to find receivers worthy of the final roster, will struggle to find the room to keep all of the worthy ones this year.
"They're good guys," Monken added of his former pupils. "I've always said that. They were fun to be around. I just wasn't able to get enough out of them. That's what you're paid to do, get the best out of your players. At times, they did play well."
Getting the best out of his current group of receivers isn't difficult. The work ethic was easily detected and it caused Smith to make the decision in the offseason not to pursue another Torry Holt-type veteran, as Smith did in '09.
"The only way to do it is to let the other guys go and see what you got," Monken said.
That's what the Jaguars did. They let the old guys go and what they see now is a good group of young receivers that should give the Jaguars depth and stability at the position for a long time to come.