He was supposed to be the Jaguars' third wide receiver and primary kick-returner. He was expected to be another weapon in the Jaguars' arsenal. R. Jay Soward was drafted to be a touchdown-maker, but his rookie season was a series of dropped passes, fumbles and fines.
Soward's rookie season ended today when coach Tom Coughlin announced that Soward had been placed on the reserve list with a "non-football illness," giving rise to speculation Soward had left the team to seek counseling. The Jaguars did not offer specific details of Soward's departure from the team.
"The decision was mutual. It is what it is. It's trying to help solve a problem. He needs a little help," Coughlin told reporters.
Soward had been a major discipline problem throughout the season, and was suspended for the game against Arizona on Dec. 10 for having missed a team meeting. Early in the season the Jaguars had arranged for Soward to be picked up each morning by a transportation service, to deal with Soward's penchant for being a late arrival. Soward paid for the transportation.
"I've been talking to R. Jay every day since he's been here," Pro-Bowl wide receiver Jimmy Smith said of Soward. "It's up to R. Jay. Jimmy Smith isn't going to change R. Jay. R. Jay's going to change R. Jay."
Soward was selected in the first round of last April's draft with the 29th overall choice. The Jaguars were in dire need of help on their offensive line, but chose Soward largely because he was too impressive of an athlete and play-maker to pass up that late in the draft.
His problems were immediate. Soward consistently dropped passes in mini-camp, and carried that over into training camp. Though Coughlin thought, at times, that Soward was making progress, his season exploded on Oct. 25 against Washington, when he bobbled a pass that resulted in a Redskins interception and subsequent touchdown, fumbled a punt that led to another Redskins touchdown, then dropped a sure touchdown pass.
Coughlin was extremely critical of Soward in the coach's postgame press conference, saying "the guy is totally undisciplined." Ironically, the worst day of Soward's rookie season was also the day he caught his only touchdown pass, a beautiful finger-tip grab in the back of the end zone, with Deion Sanders in coverage.
Soward left the locker room that day with his touchdown ball under his arm. Yesterday, he left Alltel Stadium wondering if there will ever be another touchdown.
"I feel totally confident he'll come back next year and be a different player," Smith said. "I'm always in the guy's corner. I want the best for him. He could be a good receiver in this league."
Wide receiver Keenan McCardell said Soward has always had the support of the Jaguars locker room. "It's always been there. Nobody here has turned their back on him," McCardell said.
"When you get here, you realize you have to humble yourself and go out and work hard. It's not up to anybody in this room. It's up to him," McCardell said.
Soward's total production for his rookie season is 14 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown, 14 punt returns for 108 yards, and four kickoff returns for 93 yards.