JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' most experienced receiver hasn’t practiced yet.
Two others are trying to rebound from disappointing seasons.
Another has to show that he can be a big part of the offense.
And still another is just starting to feel comfortable after joining the team in early June.
Aside from Dede Westbrook, who is coming off a 66-catch season, there are questions -- and, outside the building, a lot of doubt -- about the quality of the Jaguars’ receivers. Even with the addition of quarterback Nick Foles, is the group good enough to make defenses stop keying on running back Leonard Fournette?
Absolutely, said second-year player DJ Chark.
“I feel like you can say [the receivers have something to prove], but it’s more that we feel like this group is very talented,” Chark said. “You don’t have the guys that’s on ESPN every day getting the spotlight but we feel like we’re just as talented as any group out there. I feel like we don’t get credit but we also know that you have to work to get credit, so we’re not really worried about anything like [what] the media thinks and things like that.
“We just want to go out and win games and have fun doing it.”
Westbrook emerged as the Jaguars’ most consistent -- and pretty much only -- playmaker last season, catching 66 passes for 717 yards and five touchdowns in his second NFL season. He also accounted for two of the four touchdowns the Jaguars scored in the final five games (one was on a punt return). If the group has a No. 1 receiver at this point, it's Westbrook, who has had an impressive start to training camp.
Chark has had an even better start to camp. The 2018 second-round pick caught only 14 passes for 174 yards as a rookie and struggled with drops, but he looked much more confident during OTAs and minicamp and he has been one of the Jaguars’ most improved players.
“DJ is greatly improved from spring,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “I think you see confidence level in the offense, in himself, at a really high level right now. He’s been more consistent than he was in spring. Showed flashes of it in spring and did a good job in spring. I’m not saying DJ did a bad job in spring, but he has been way more consistent day in and day out and play in and play out this training camp so far.”
Four-year veteran Chris Conley, who signed a two-year deal with the Jaguars in March, has joined Westbrook and Chark as the players getting the most first-team reps. Conley was a 13-game starter in Kansas City last season but caught only 32 passes for 334 yards (he did have five TDs) behind Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
The Jaguars need him to be a bigger contributor in 2019, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Marqise Lee.
Lee suffered a severe knee injury during the 2018 preseason and started training camp on the PUP list. The Jaguars have not released a timetable for when he might return, but they clearly will ease him back into practice whenever he is cleared.
Lee is the team’s most experienced receiver (171 catches) but it’s logical to expect his workload to be limited when the season begins.
Like Chark, Keelan Cole is trying to bounce back from a poor 2018. After leading the team in receiving yards in 2017 as an undrafted rookie out of Kentucky Wesleyan, Cole caught 17 passes in the Jaguars’ first four games last season before a disastrous October, when he dropped five passes and lost two fumbles and got benched.
Cole caught just nine passes in the final eight games and finished tied for second in the NFL with seven drops. He entered the spring needing to prove he could be a reliable target. He seemed to do that in OTAs and minicamp, but hasn’t flashed as much in training camp.
That leaves the seven remaining receivers fighting for the No. 6 spot (provided the Jaguars do keep six on their final roster). The most intriguing of that group is Terrelle Pryor, who joined the team in early June. The converted quarterback caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns in Cleveland in 2016 but has just 32 receptions in the past two seasons while battling ankle injuries with Washington, Buffalo and the New York Jets.
Pryor, who is the biggest receiver in camp (6-foot-4, 228 pounds), is starting to get more comfortable in the offense, DeFilippo said.
“I mean, he’s playing a lot faster,” DeFilippo said. “So you still felt him a little bit, kind of gliding a little bit at times, this spring because he was a little bit unsure. But he’s been in a lot of this offense, it’s not exactly the same before, so he just needed to dust the rust off a little bit and you’ve seen him these last couple days make a couple plays.”
Still, it’s hard to see Pryor cracking into the top three spots held by Westbrook, Chark and Conley. Plus, there’s no way to know just yet how Lee will fit into the rotation when he gets healthy and whether that means the Jaguars will keep six receivers heading into the season opener.
“Those guys [Westbrook, Chark and Conley] are obviously getting the majority of the first-team reps right now, but to me it’s always an open competition,” DeFilippo said. “And everyone has got to prepare like they’re going to be the opening-day starter because it’s a long way to go until we play Kansas City.”