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View from the O-Zone: Earning their way


JACKSONVILLE – It's not easy, and that's not going to change.

Corey Grant's fine with that.

Heck, by now the Jaguars' third-year veteran running back expects this situation and even welcomes it. And he wouldn't feel right if it wasn't his situation.

Grant's situation? He's an NFL long shot – and if long shot isn't quite right when describing Grant, it's close. He's a reserve running back, and a former undrafted free agent.

A roster spot? Never guaranteed.

"Every season, I look at it like I'm fighting for a spot," Grant said Monday following a joint practice with the Tampa Buccaneers on the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field. "I was an undrafted guy, and every year I'm fighting for that spot.

"Nothing's guaranteed. You have to have that mindset."

Grant's not alone, and two weeks into Jaguars 2017 Training Camp we're getting a clearer idea about where players such as Grant might fit into the Jaguars' plans. And two weeks into camp, there are several players who look more and more as if they may be playing their way out of long-shot status and into the 53-man roster.

Yes, it's early. But the signs are there. Here's a look at three such players:

*Grant, running back.OK, it's probably not all that fair to have Grant on this list. This is a guy, after all, who made the Jaguars' roster each of the past two seasons – and he wrote his undrafted-rookie-makes-the-roster story two offseasons ago. But Grant is fourth on the team's unofficial depth chart behind co-starters Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, so a long-shot label still applies. A few factors give Grant a real chance: he may be the team's fastest player, he is good on special teams and he takes advantage of opportunities when they arise. Grant has flashed throughout practice as a running back, and his brightest flash came last Thursday in the preseason opener when he scored on a 79-yard run in the third quarter against New England. It appears as if it will be very difficult to keep Grant off the roster – not that he allows himself to see it that way. "When you start off that way [as an undrafted free agent], you're always trying to make the team," Grant said. "They always might bring in another guy. There's someone working just as hard as you. It's instilled in me: every camp, I'm an undrafted guy. I have to earn this position."

Images from the first day of joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

*Keelan Cole, wide receiver.Cole's status is changing before our eyes – and it feels as if he may be fast playing his way off the long-shot list. That's impressive, because two weeks ago he was an unknown undrafted free agent from Kentucky Wesleyan, a Division II program in Owensboro, Kentucky. Cole on Monday said his approach in camp is simple: "Every play, every second – even if it's blocking – counts." Cole has parlayed that approach into an eye-catching camp. He showed the ability to get open deep and make plays on the ball early in camp, and he has gotten open on intermediate crossing routes in recent days. Oh, yeah: he had a 97-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Chad Henne in the second quarter Thursday in New England. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone this weekend talked about Cole's development on special teams; when head coaches praise undrafted players for special teams, that's a good sign for the young player.

*Tyler Patmon, cornerback.When discussing players playing their way off the long-shot list, it's hard to not include Patmon. While he has 24 games NFL experience – 22 with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 and 2015 – his last regular-season action came in 2015 with the Miami Dolphins. He spent last season on practice squads in Kansas City and Carolina, but he has spent this training camp making play after play – after play. He has at least six interceptions in two weeks of training camp, and had an interception and a pass defensed against the Buccaneers Monday. He intercepted Jaguars starting quarterback Blake Bortles Sunday in 7-on-7 and returned it for a touchdown. With Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin not yet practicing in team drills, Patmon is one of several cornerbacks including Brian Dixon and Doran Grant getting reps with the starter. A good sign for Patmon came Monday. When Marrone was asked if Patmon's performance equaled his practice production, he said it did. He also immediately began discussing Patmon on special teams. "I had a talk with him the other day," Marrone said. "We were concerned that: No. 1, your performance on defense is going well – and what we wanted to make sure of is that we needed a better performance from special teams.  That's what we're looking for to help him have a better opportunity to make the team. He's really picked it up these last two days on special teams, so now it's very simple for me to say, 'He's in a position now to do everything he can to make this team.' He's making plays and that's when we talk about the results."

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