One area that fans need to pay attention to in the upcoming Jacksonville Jaguars pre-season games is the wide receiver position. It's been an area where a lot of fans have clamored for an upgrade, but the team has preached patience. The team has decided to roll with their younger receivers to find out exactly what they have, but that's looking more and more like a massive gamble.
I wanted to give the Jaguars wide receiver group a week before I really judged if they erred in letting Mike Sims-Walker go in free agency and not addressing the position, aside from a mid-round pick in the NFL Draft. Not that Sims-Walker is a great wide receiver, but he was at the least a solid player who you knew what you were getting (He had 3 catches for 71 yards and a TD in the Rams scrimmage). Well, a full week into training camp and taking in the team's annual scrimmage... I think it was a mistake.
Outside of Jaguars receiver Mike Thomas, who's the only real proven member of the group, the Jaguars seem to be lacking. Thomas is a nice player, but I don't believe he'll ever emerge as a true go-to receiver. Many will compare him to Carolina Panthers Steve Smith, but to put it plainly: He's not that guy. Thomas is a nice receiver to have, who gets open in the shorter and intermediate routes because of his quickness but despite his 4.3 40-yard dash time, struggles to really get open deep down the field. It seems when a team puts bracket coverage on Thomas, he also struggles to get separation. In the long pass that Gabbert threw to Thomas that wound up underthrown, even before the throw David Jones had Thomas covered.
Jason Hill is a player I liked a lot when he entered the draft and I was excited about him when he was claimed by the Jaguars off waivers. We don't have much to go on with Hill however, aside from the few games his played in 2010. He certainly flashed a bit, but he's yet to carry those flashes with him into training camp so far. He's had a very lackluster camp with his most memorable play coming on a deep pass where cornerback David Jones completely blew the coverage and just let Hill run by him.
After Thomas and Hill, things get even muddier. You've got the oft-injured Jarett Dillard, who's had a solid camp as he's always had... but you can't rely on him to be healthy just yet. Rookie Cecil Shorts looks like a great find as a slot receiver, but then again he's also a rookie. Kassim Osgood is well.... Kassim Osgood. He's an elite special teams player, but as a receiver he doesn't offer much more than a guy who can block on running plays. If you were at the scrimmage, you saw him drop some deeper passes from rookie Blaine Gabbert. One likely would have been an easy long touchdown had he just caught the ball instead of looking like he was playing safety.
The Jaguars have two undrafted guys who could prove to be difficult cuts in Jamar Newsome and Armon Binns. Binns might not be so difficult anymore, as he's missed the last 3 days of practice including the scrimmage with an injury. Newsome reminds me a lot of Mike Thomas in the fact that he's more quick than fast and can get open on the shorter and intermediate routes. He ran a nice route down the seam in the scrimmage, at least until he cut the wrong direction. "I took [the route] inside and the ball came outside," Newsome told reporters about the incompletion. "I took the middle and he [Gabbert] threw it like I was still going to the seam." The coaches said after the game that Gabbert made the right read, Newsome simply drifted the wrong direction.
Then you've got perennial camp All-Star in Tiquan Underwood, who's really not shown anything aside from the fact that he still has poor hands and drops passes more often than not.
Now, am I saying the Jaguars should have backed up the money truck to Sidney Rice's door like the Seattle Seahawks did? Absolutely not. They are however, taking a big gamble with this group no matter who's at quarterback. The simple fact is, there wasn't really anyone in free agency aside from Rice or Santonio Holmes that would have offered a clear cut upgrade to the group the Jaguars have. Someone like James Jones or Malcom Floyd would have been nice additions, but they wouldn't have necessarily fixed the problem.
This is a position we'll need to pay a close eye to in the pre-season. Mind you, in the scrimmage the team was without Pro-Bowlers Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew who help open up the passing game, but if the receivers all require single coverage to be able to get open... well, that's again still a problem.
Someone said last year that the wide receiver position was fixed.... It might be broken again.