Jaguars relying on rookies as injuries to receivers continue
By MARK LONG
Dec. 28, 2017
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Dede Westbrook's role with the Jacksonville Jaguars has changed dramatically in the last six weeks.
Even the rookie receiver has been surprised by his rapid rise.
"I never thought in my first year I'd be teaching another guy the playbook," Westbrook said Thursday.
Jacksonville's slew of injuries at the position has Westbrook and fellow rookie Keelan Cole doing more than anyone expected.
The Jaguars (10-5) have receivers Allen Robinson, Rashad Greene, Shane Wynn, Arrelious Benn, Larry Pinkard and now Jaelen Strong on injured reserve, and have played the last six games without Allen Hurns (ankle). Leading receiver Marqise Lee also is expected to miss his second straight game with a sprained right ankle Sunday when Jacksonville plays at Tennessee (8-7) in the regular-season finale.
All those setbacks have left Westbrook and Cole as the team's go-to receivers. It's far from an ideal situation, but one the Jaguars managed to survive to win the AFC South for the first time in franchise history.
"There's a lot of guys that have gone down, a lot of guys that have been called up," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "We're running out of guys to call up, so we have to bring more in."
The Jaguars did that Wednesday, promoting rookie Montay Crockett to the 53-man roster and signing Tevaun Smith to the practice squad. Bortles introduced himself to Smith in the locker room, and it's hardly the first time it's happened this season.
"That's kind of become a thing," Bortles said.
It's certainly been a hurdle in 2017.
Robinson tore a knee ligament on the third play of the season opener, joining Westbrook, Greene and Wynn on IR. It was a huge blow losing the team's big-play threat and its top red-zone target.
Still, the Jaguars seemed capable of surviving without Robinson because they had Hurns and Lee. Once those two started getting dinged up, it was anyone guess how Jacksonville would move the ball through the air.
It didn't get any easier when Benn (knee) was lost for the season in mid-November. Pinkard (concussion) and Strong (knee) have since joined him on IR.
"In the coaching profession, you have to look at it and say change in the norm," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "You just always have to be ready to adjust. ... That's part of the game, and you just got to keep on rolling."
Cole and Westbrook have been better than expected.
Cole has 38 receptions for 715 yards and three touchdowns. The undrafted free agent from Kentucky Wesleyan has 393 yards receiving in the last three weeks.
Westbrook, a fourth-round draft pick from Oklahoma, missed the first eight games of the season following core muscle surgery. The 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist has at least 70 yards receiving in three of the last four games.
Hurns and Lee are expected back, possibly this week for Hurns and maybe in the playoffs for Lee.
"We want those guys back," Westbrook said. "But at the end of the day, if they're not ready, they're not ready. Until that point, it's on me and Keelan top go out there and make those guys proud and do what we've been coached to do.
"We both have the mindset that it's on us, and it's between us to push this team and get us in the right position to win."