JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 19: Mike Thomas #80 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts to catch a pass against Brent Grimes #20 of the Atlanta Falcons during a game at EverBank Field on August 19, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
The Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers have been often discussed this offseason. It's a rather unproven group with a lot of guys that have that scary "P" word. Potential. The only proven player in the group is Mike Thomas, who had a bit of a break out season last year. What can this wide receiver group be, though?
I couldn't help but notice watching the game on Friday, the wide receivers had trouble getting open and creating separation. Well, everyone except for rookie receiver Cecil Shorts... who might very well be the Jaguars best all-around receiver. I won't get into that right now, but just something I've noticed watching him. As far as the other players, even Thomas, they struggled to create separation with the defender.
If you go back and watch some of the passing plays, the vast majority of the plays were either quick "rock and fire" plays where a read wasn't required (much of Luke McCown's touchdown drive), slants, curls, or screens. Those types of routes don't require much as far as separation is concerned, it's primarily positioning. On the slant route for instance, as long as the receiver can beat the jam and get inside positioning, he's "open". If you look back at some of Jason Hill's receptions on the slants he caught, you can see what I'm talking about.
On the deeper routes the Jaguars ran, the receivers struggled to really separate from the defender. On David Garrard's first pass downfield to Mike Thomas, Thomas was blanked by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes and Grimes broke up the play easily. On Garrard's other deep throw that wound up intercepted, Thomas was bracketed by Brent Grimes over the top with the safety underneath. Thomas had some room between he and his defenders, but he wasn't necessarily open. Garrard would have needed to put a lot less air under the ball and rifle it in there for a really tough throw just over the safety in to Thomas.
Later in the game, on Blaine Gabbert's first pass attempt that fell short to Mike Thomas, Thomas was again blanketed by the corner but he had inside positioning. It likely would have been a completion if Gabbert had put more on the ball, but the corner could have made a play on the ball and/or would have tackled Thomas immediately. On Gabbert's pass to Jarrett Dillard, who lined up in the slot and ran what looked like a curl route for 11 yards, it was a simple run 10 yards and turn around. Dillard was tackled immediately. On Gabbert's long completion to Dontrell Inman, Inman had a window of separation where he caught the football, but Falcons safety Sam Schillenger was in position and right there to make the tackle.
I don't want to hit the panic button on the receiving corps, but the team still currently doesn't seem to have someone who can stretch the field at the receiver position. Thomas is quick and fast, but he's still not really a deep threat receiver and seems to get shut down by bracket coverage. Jason Hill is supposed to be that guy, but I can't recall seeing him being sent downfield yet, not to mention he's not really getting separation. As I mentioned before, rookie Cecil Shorts seemed to be the only receiver to consistently get separation, but that would be putting a lot on the shoulders of a rookie.
I don't think the Jaguars will make a move at the position, as there's really not much to do given what's available, but this will be a position to watch. Even with Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew on the field, if the Jaguars can't find a guy that can stretch the field and create some separation on a consistent basis, we're going to see more of the same in the passing game, regardless of who winds up at quarterback.