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Shorts showing he belongs

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Looking at tape, Cecil Shorts didn't love what he saw.

When Shorts, a rookie wide receiver for the Jaguars, went back and watched his first NFL game this past Friday, what he mainly saw was mistakes. He saw a fumble. He saw a route cut off a little too soon here; a pattern not run to perfection there.

It wasn't tragic stuff, and Shorts said he didn't play poorly, but to him, the mistakes stood out.

The Jaguars don't mind Shorts being that way. What's important to the Jaguars when they watch Shorts live and on tape is that while they, too, may see the mistakes of a rookie learning the NFL, what they notice more is something undeniable:

The kid from the Division III school? The fourth-round selection who was part of a draft class criticized by some for having too many small-school players? The kid from Mount Union?

The kid can just, plain play.

"I love Cecil," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said. "I love the way that he plays, I love his intensity, I love his understanding of the game."

That's pretty much the consensus around the Jaguars after three and a half weeks of Jaguars preseason and training camp. Shorts isn't a finished product, and there are NFL details that remain to be learned, but there's little question he has the ability to be contribute in the short- and long-term.

"You look for a guy who can handle his responsibilities and learn his role," Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas said. "Catching the ball, that's the most important thing in what we do, and he's done that time after time after time. They drafted him for a reason and Cecil has done a great job of doing what's asked of him. He's pretty witty. He has been a bright star and a low-maintenance star.

"He's got a lot to learn. We all have a lot to learn, but he's definitely on good footing."

Shorts, who caught 259 passes for 4,705 yards and 63 touchdowns in four seasons at Mount Union, impressed from the start. Like all Jaguars rookies this season, he had no off-season with the team because of the lockout, and like all the rookies except for quarterback Blaine Gabbert, he first got his Jaguars playbook when he signed his contract in late July.

He immediately began making catches that stood out in training camp, and although he missed the first preseason game, he stood out to coaches and personnel officials in his first week of training camp because of an ability to make the ordinarily difficult look easy.

He played well in the final week of training camp practice, then in his first NFL game this past Friday, after a fumbling a reverse the first time he touched the ball, he caught five passes for 52 yards.

Garrard said the early fumble was a learning moment for Shorts. What he talked about mostly this week while discussing the rookie were things that are far harder to learn.

"His hands are remarkable," Garrard said. "He does a great job with just anything that's around him, he will squeeze it and bring it in and that's what you want. His speed is really good, too. He can run great routes and has great body language, a lot like Mike Sims-Walker did when he was here.

"He just positions himself well. He's a big target and a strong guy, so I think his future is very, very bright."

Garrard said Shorts at times plays with the field awareness of a veteran, and when people around the Jaguars talk of Shorts, they speak of football sense beyond his experience. Garrard this week spoke of a 3rd-and-10 reception Shorts made against Atlanta this past week.

"They brought a zero blitz and he broke out real crisply on the sideline there and I put the ball right on him," Garrard said. "I mean those things like that, he wasn't short, he wasn't too deep, he had the understanding that he had to work fast because he knew I was going to be rushed. I'm able to throw the ball almost blind out there to him knowing that he's going to be in the right spot.

"I think those are the things that definitely give you great separation. He was real quick in that slot position. He has the ability to play in the slot and then at some point to be on the outside too."

As for the small-school angle of Shorts' story, Garrard was asked about it this week. His reply was that the story had pretty much run its course. Shorts, too, said while there always will be the motivation of proving disbelievers wrong, doubting his abilities never has been an issue.

"You have confidence," Shorts said. "You can't play in this league if you don't have confidence, especially at receiver. You have to get off the press, catch the ball in coverage, catch the ball in traffic, so you have to have dog confidence about yourself. You don't have to be arrogant, but you have to be confident. You can't doubt yourself. If you doubt yourself, that's when things go wrong."

Shorts said that confidence only grew this past Friday, because while he believed in himself, there is a difference between belief and proof.

"I was pretty confident going in, but it definitely helped," Shorts aid. "It put a thought in my head: 'You can definitely play with these guys, you definitely belong. I still made some mistakes. I'm a rookie.

"I'm going to make mistakes. But I'm definitely on the right path. I'm real hard on myself, so I don't take too many good things. There's a lot I can work on, but if I keep working, it should be an exciting year."

Judging what they have seen thus far, few around the Jaguars wouldn't agree. 

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