Now is the time for Cortez Hankton to make his move.
"This is it," Hankton agreed as he left the field following Saturday morning's mini-camp practice at Alltel Stadium.
For three years, Hankton has been a player of which the Jaguars have spoken hopefully. Always, however, significant playing time has just been out of his reach. There were first-round picks who kept him down the pecking order, and then last summer, when it appeared he was poised to make a move, a severe ankle sprain shut him down.
With the retirement of Jimmy Smith on Thursday, the Jaguars instantly found themselves searching for a successor at wide receiver. Will it be Ernest Wilford? Matt Jones? Reggie Williams?
Why not Hankton?
"When you gotta guy like Jimmy Smith and he leaves, you've got a real big void to fill. Everybody is going to strive to be that number one guy. Now that Jimmy's gone, you know the balls can go any way," Hankton said.
All of them want to be the next Jimmy Smith. There isn't a wide receiver on the Jaguars' roster who doesn't dream of becoming the team's number one pass-catcher.
Through Saturday morning's mini-camp practice, none of the Jaguars' receivers have taken the lead. Chad Owens had a big day on Friday but Owens' plight is more of a roster battle. Wilford was the Jaguars' second-leading receiver last year. Jones and Williams are first-round picks. Hankton has been with the Jaguars the longest.
"I've gotten flashes of playing time here and there," he said.
In 2004 he made a couple of touchdown catches, including the game-winner against Kansas City. He caught three passes against Tennessee. He was establishing himself.
Then came last summer's ankle injury, which resulted in minor surgery early in training camp, and Hankton's season turned to ruin. He didn't catch a pass until the regular-season finale, when he caught three. See you next year, Cortez.
Well, this is next year. Hankton is in his restricted free agency year, which means this is his prove-it season. A big season would likely earn Hankton a new contract and a future in Jacksonville.
"Trying to be the next Jimmy Smith has our guys playing hard. I think that's important," quarterback Byron Leftwich said of finding a receiver worthy of Smith's position, "but I don't pick that guy. The way it turns out is the way it turns out."
"Jimmy got x-amount of balls. Somebody is going to get those balls. Come out here and compete and the better you do the more we're going to utilize you. I think it's more obvious to anyone following the team there's going to be more opportunity," coach Jack Del Rio said.
"I know, for a fact, I will get the opportunity. That's the big thing. Then all I have to do is take care of business. Then everything will fall into place," Hankton said.