JACKSONVILLE – This is starting to be a good story.
It's not a great story yet, because Marqise Lee's story won't be great until what is developing becomes more. This is the beginning of that development, so "great" may take a while. But that's OK.
For now, being a good story is enough.
Being good means signs being seen.
Being good means confidence being gained.
Being good means the rookie wide receiver is smiling again, and if Lee didn't exactly scowl during what at times has been a difficult rookie season, the smiles are certainly coming easier and looking realer as season's end draws near.
That smile has come with comfort, and Lee said no question he has more of that now than a month ago.
"It's not necessarily fully 'getting it,'" Lee said this week, deftly avoiding saying "I got it," which is something Jaguars players learn quickly not to say around Head Coach Gus Bradley. "It's getting more comfortable with what's going on as far as understanding things you see."
That comfort is a good thing for the Jaguars' 2014 draft class.
It's good for the franchise's future, too. The Jaguars need stories like Lee's right now. They need young players to develop. Brandon Linder, Allen Robinson, Luke Bowanko, Aaron Colvin, Allen Hurns and Telvin Smith are developing, and because they are, the 2014 rookie class shows signs of being good. Add Blake Bortles and Lee to that, and you have signs of the class being, really, really good.
For 10 games this season, you couldn't add Lee to that list.
Now, you can.
For 10 games, Lee struggled with injuries, with confidence, with route-running, with everything that makes rookie wide receivers struggle. That added up to 13 receptions for passes for 141 yards and no touchdowns.
Lee won't go so far as to say he lost confidence.
He will say keeping that confidence wasn't always easy.
"One knows himself, I can honestly say," Lee said. "You know what you're capable of, and if you weren't capable you wouldn't be in the situation. I'm always confident in myself … it's just continuing to keep that mindset when things aren't going your way."
Lee said a couple of things got him through the difficult times.
One was knowing however difficult it may have been being an NFL rookie, he had been through more difficult times. Significantly more difficult.
Lee's background has been documented enough we won't go into every detail here. His parents both were deaf. He lost a brother to gang violence; another was imprisoned. Growing up in Los Angeles, he lived at a slew of addresses and in a slew of situations. Few, if any, were ideal.
"The things I went through now are nothing compared to what I went through before in my life," he said. "To get down on this (his rookie season) would be a failure, and I'd be a failure."
He was helped, too, by the support of teammates. Cecil Shorts III, Ace Sanders, Mike Brown. These are veteran players fighting for playing time, for jobs. Lee getting better doesn't help any of the three individually. Still, all three encouraged him. All three helped him. Significantly.
Lee thought that was cool. Really cool.
"That's the crazy thing, and that's why I respect not just my team, but my receiving corps so much," Lee said.
It took an injury to one of those teammates to give him this opportunity. When fellow rookie wide receiver Allen Robinson was ruled out for the season with a foot injury after the 10th game, many saw Lee's increased role as his opportunity to salvage his rookie season.
Lee said he saw it differently.
"One thing I told A-Rob is, 'I'm going to go out there and play my heart out for you – and finish out the season for you,'" Lee said. "And not just for him, but for the team."
How this ends remains to be seen. We're writing about Lee being a good story after three productive games, and even those games haven't been earth-shattering or record-breaking. He has 14 receptions in the span for 194 yards and a touchdown. He has yet to have a 100-yard game. He's not yet a No. 1 receiver.
But he's not struggling anymore, and you see flashes. Real flashes. He has a 30-yard reception in each of the last three games, and has significant plays outside of those receptions. His 22-yard gain on a slant pattern against the Giants was as big a play as there was in that game, and he followed that with a first-half Sunday against Houston on which he consistently turned short passes into first downs with speed, quickness and instinctive moves.
"We're just seeing a glimpse of what he can be," Shorts said.
For 10 games, we didn't see that glimpse. We didn't see what Shorts and others saw when they said Lee was the most talented of the Jaguars' receivers. For 10 games, we didn't see what those who watched Lee in college saw when he was the nation's best college receiver as a sophomore, and when people used his name and "Heisman candidate" in the same sentence.
We're seeing it now, though.
And because we are, a good story is starting to feel like it could become a whole lot more.