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View from the O-Zone: Three are two … again


JACKSONVILLE – Three have become two. Again.

It's not ideal – and for the Jaguars' 2017 season, it's really a shame.

But for three Jaguars wide receivers who entered the NFL as rookies in 2014, and who have grown up alongside one another since, that's how it has been as often than not. And with 2015 Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson now out for the season, that's how it is again for Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee.

What was a trio is now a duo. Three have become two. Again.

"A-Rob going down is very unfortunate," Hurns said Wednesday as the Jaguars (1-0) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (0-1) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

"Me and Marqise were just talking today that we can't ever seem to get all three guys for a whole year. It was me going down last year. The year before, you had Marqise's thing.

"We just haven't been able to play a full year with all three of us."

Lee, Robinson and Hurns all entered the NFL in 2014, with Robinson making the Pro Bowl with a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2015 and Hurns registering 1,031 yards and touchdowns the same season. Lee caught a career-high 63 passes for 851 yards and three touchdowns last season.

But times when all three were full go have been rare.

Robinson missed the final six games in 2014 with a foot injury. Lee played just 10 in 2015 because of a lingering hamstring issue. Hurns missed the final five games last season with a hamstring injury.

The three were healthy entering this season, then Robinson hopped halfway across the field in Houston last Sunday after a 17-yard reception on the game's third play.

He was placed on injured reserved Tuesday with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"It was very tough," Hurns said. "The pace he was going … we came back from OTAs, and me and him trained in the offseason. Just to see how much work he put into it, and to see it all go down on the third play of the game was very unfortunate. But that's the game we play. You have to live with things like that."

Lee expressed similar thoughts Monday, calling Robinson's injury "sickening" but saying he is ready for the challenge.

Robinson's absence leaves what appeared a deep receiving corps far thinner. Robinson played the X receiver role, and while the team's other receivers often rotated through the offense, Robinson played 94.16 percent of the team's plays last season – behind only quarterback Blake Bortles, right tackle Jermey Parnell and right guard A.J. Cann.

Rotation by the receivers appears likely, but what appears most likely is Hurns and Lee being the front-line duo – with Lee the most likely to be the offense's go-to receiver.

That's a new role for Lee, who spent much of his first two and a half seasons behind Robinson and Hurns, emerging as a starter late last season in Hurns' absence before entering training camp this season as the starter opposite Robinson.

One positive factor for Lee: he and Blake Bortles appear for the first time to have a rapport on par with the rapport Bortles developed with Hurns and Robinson late in 2014 and throughout 2015.

"I think that kind of happened this preseason," Bortles said Wednesday. "I think going through camp and really, it felt like the first time Marqise was 100 percent. He was flying around. He was having fun. He was healthy.  He was enjoying it, and I think for him to be healthy for the first time, it was easy for me to get on the same page with him and kind of create that rapport."

Hurns' 2017 camp was different than his past Jaguars camps. He played relatively sparingly in the preseason, then entered the regular season out of the starting lineup for the first time since starting half the Jaguars' games as a rookie. Some observers speculated he could be traded.

Hurns, who made the Jaguars an undrafted rookie free agent, was asked Wednesday if being overlooked again bothered him. He laughed.

"Not at all," he said. "It adds fuel to the fire. This whole offseason, this camp, has been crazy: a lot of crazy talk going on. At the end of the day, I use it as motivation."

In that sense, Hurns said he and Lee both see Robinson's absence the same way. Yes, the injury was sickening for both – but it was motivating, too.

"Me and Marqise have been talking a lot, and we know: for the people that are doubting us, time will tell," Hurns said. "We'll see."

Yes, for the trio that entered the NFL together in 2014, three have become two. Again.

But the two that remain believe they're ready for what lies ahead.

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