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Shorts fighting through injury again


JACKSONVILLE – It was there in his face. It was all through his shoulders, too.

He didn't want his young teammates to see it there. And Cecil Shorts III on Saturday did everything in his power to make sure those guys didn't see, but was it there?

Was the frustration and disappointment in his eyes and face real? Darned right it was.

"I can't catch a break right now," Shorts said, "but it's all good I guess."

Shorts talked a while Saturday about being determined not to be frustrated. No good can come from it, he said. And then a few minutes later…

"My frustration level might be up at an all-time high, honestly," he said, forcing a smile.

And really, how could he not feel that way? No way he couldn't. Not the way he's wired. There are too many hard-working, dedicated players to say Shorts is the most-dedicated or hardest-working, but to say he's in the conversation?

Yeah, you can say that, which is why it was no surprise Shorts spent the offseason working and preparing his body to avoid injury in training camp. He talked throughout the offseason of feeling better physically than in any of his first three NFL seasons, and even though a calf injury kept him out of much of organized team activities and minicamp, that was more precautionary than anything.

And Shorts said he indeed felt better entering camp than at any time in his NFL career. Early in practice Friday on the first day of 2014 Training Camp, he said he "literally felt great."

Then, during a group install period Friday, Shorts ran a 12-yard over route and jumped to catch the ball. When he landed, he felt something.

"I was like, 'Hmmm,'" Shorts said. "Is it a cramp or is it a grab? I couldn't tell."

In a 7-on-7 drill shortly thereafter, Shorts couldn't explode as he wanted. He left practice and he said an MRI Saturday showed a Grade-Two strain, which means he likely will miss at least the next two weeks of camp.

"I think it frustrates him more than anybody," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. "We trust Cecil so much as far as being ready mentally. He knows what to do. We'll have enough time so we'll be OK."

And that's true. Shorts knows the offense. He said after practice it's better to have this happen now than when he missed time in camp last season. Last year, he was learning the offense; this season, he knows it.

"It's not like we have new everything like previous years, so that's a plus," Shorts said.

And it's sure better for him to be out than one of the younger receivers, Allen Robinson or Marqise Lee. While those two second-round receivers are showing their talent early in camp, they still have serious work to do – fundamental, learning-the-league work – to be ready for the regular season.

Shorts is farther along, and he agrees with Bradley that he will be ready for the regular season.

"I know what I need to be ready," Shorts said. "Once I get healthy, if I have to go out on my own and run routes and put time in with whoever I need to get time in with … I know what I need to do."

Now, let's not overstate this. We're not writing the obituary on Shorts' 2014 season. This doesn't ruin his Contract Year. Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell talked glowingly of Shorts Friday, describing him as exactly the kind of player the organization wants and specifically stating that the team drafted Robinson and Lee to complement Shorts – not to replace him.

BREAKING: #Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts III (hamstring) out multiple weeks. #JagsCamp Central: — Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) July 26, 2014

This doesn't change that.

This is merely a two-week setback, but the frustration for Shorts is it's a setback that follows a setback that follows a season that ended with a setback – and another setback was something he worked all off-season to avoid.

One reason, of course, is the contract-year thing. Shorts has been injured enough in three seasons that his ability to stay healthy is a concern, and while he has been productive, he has yet to have a breakout, 1,000-yard, leverage-creating season.

To say that that isn't motivating Shorts would be to deny human nature.

But at the same time, Shorts also feels a responsibility to this team, to his teammates. He, Lee and Robinson are expected to be the Jaguars' top three receivers, which is not only a staggeringly young receiver room but which makes Shorts the veteran of the room at a strikingly young age. It's a responsibility Shorts values, and it's a reason he showed up midway through practice Saturday, after spending an hour in the MRI chamber.

He considered at first not going to practice, but he didn't consider it for long. He went to practice, shook hands with all of his receiver teammates.

"I wanted to," Shorts said. "I felt bad, you know what I mean? I feel like already I'm letting people down. I wanted to be there to help them."

It is key, Shorts said Saturday, for his teammates not to see his disappointment – "I can't let them see me get down," he said – because there's no time for that. There's a season for which to prepare.

"We have to be ready to go," he said. "I have to do my part in leading them."

Shorts said he will do that, and his track record says he will, too.

Even with his frustration at an all-time high.

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