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Thunder Talks: Jaguars’ Keenan McCardell offers high praise for young WR corp

The Jaguars enter 2020 boasting one of the brightest up-and-coming young corp of receivers in the NFL.

NFL: JUN 11 Jacksonville Jaguars Minicamp Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jaguars wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a dominant receiver in the NFL.

During his time as a player with the Jaguars from 1996-2001, McCardell was one part of the dynamic duo of Thunder and Lightning, McCardell being the Thunder to Jimmy Smith’s lighting. Now, it’s his job to attempt to usher in a new era of great receivers, and thus far, the future appears promising.

“Everybody has continued to improve each and every day,” McCardell said today when asked about his wide receiver room. “It’s great to have some big guys that can run routes like little guys and some little guys that can get past folks like the big guys, big guys just being big. I mean, it’s a great room.”

The Jaguars’ core receiver room is fairly diverse. The size ranges from 6-foot, 178-pound Dede Westbrook to 6-foot-6, 222-pound rookie Collin Johnson and everywhere in between.

The hope is to allow for each individual to contribute in a variety of ways, the better the team is at that position, the easier it will be on second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew II, McCardell said.

The team is currently already set to have a Pro Bowl receiver in DJ Chark Jr, someone who has already impressed during training camp and is set to become even better heading into 2020. Chark is someone who McCardell certainly has high expectations for, however, he doesn’t want to put too much on his plate just yet, he says.

“I don’t want to overload him too much with what I want from him. I’m going to ease it to him, because you start to throw too much on him, and he gets to thinking,” said McCardell. “I want my guys to be able to play fast and have fun. I want them to go out and have fun. That’s what I want them to do is go out and have fun. And take a leadership role, just a little bit more. You know, demand more from the people around him.”

Chark is coming off the best season of his career after posting 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. Earlier this offseason, Chark spoke to the local media and expressed what he would like to accomplish this season.

The team’s newest receiver, Laviska Shenault Jr. has also turned heads at training camp thus far, although without the pads, it’s tough to gauge just how much one can gather from such a showing. McCardell recruited the young receiver during his time at Maryland, however, and has already seen first-hand what he is capable of.

McCardell likened him to two receivers who will likely to down as two of the greatest receivers of all time, high praise and tough shoes to fill for the young rookie.

“I see a lot of power—strong runner after the catch. You know, he reminds me a little bit of Anquan Boldin after the catch, the way he gets in and out, the way he breaks his tackles, on film I saw that,” McCardell said of Shenault.

The second-round selection this year stands at 6-foot-1, 227 pounds and carries every last pound on his body. A physically imposing receiver it is clear to see what McCardell is seeing each and everyday out at practice and in the weight room. Boldin is extremely similar in physique and playing style to Shenault, too.

During his playing career, Boldin was listed as 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and routinely would break tackles, using his power. Boldin isn’t the only receiver McCardell likened Shenault to, however.

“Now, being up close with him, he has that power of [former Houston Texas receiver] Andre Johnson. You know, I hold Andre in high regards, that’s my guy, we’re good friends. But I’ve also seen him [Shenault] work every day. I see the power that he has, he kind of reminds me a little bit of Andre, he has that type of power. And I don’t want to put those shoes out there for him because those are some huge shoes to fill, but you know, he has that type of body type.”

As a player, McCardell spent time in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s offense, at least a version of it. In 2002-03, McCardell played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Jay’s brother, Jon Gruden, was the team’s head coach while Jay, an offensive assistant. When asked about the similarities and the chance to work with Jay again, McCardell lit up.

“Oh it’s been great! I mean, I kind of know this offense pretty well. I’ve been to the Pro Bowl with this offense, so I understand this offense. I can kind of help my guys get through some of the hard parts of this offense. I think Jay has kind of made it a little bit simpler than [Las Vegas Raiders head coach] Jon [Gruden],” he says.

While the offenses are certainly similar, McCardell noted that Jay’s offense features less pre-snap shifts, making it a bit easier outside.

“It’s concept-driven and our guys have picked it up pretty well. I mean, our virtual meetings in the spring were really big for us and we’re fortunate enough [that] we’ve got some smart guys that are picking the offense up.”

Learning a new offense can oftentimes be taxing, especially when dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and how that has affected everyone around the globe. However, the familiarity and overall focus from the young receivers and this offense has made it a lot easier.

Notes from Sunday’s practice:

The Jaguars spent their final day of non-padded practice in the sun on Sunday, and while there wasn’t much to glean from the day, there were a couple of key takeaways:

  • Chark is extremely talented. On a day that featured very few “wow” plays, Chark has continued to impressed, making plenty of plays of his own. One came on a big-time catch right in front of rookie cornerback CJ Henderson who was draped all over him. That will be a matchup to watch moving forward.
  • Joe Schobert is pretty quick. The high-paid free agent linebacker has high expectations, however, thus far (without pads), he is living up to it. The linebacker played his role extremely well today, nearly coming down with an interception on Minshew. The Jaguars’ quarterback has thrown just one interception during camp.
  • Chris Thompson remains shifty. While second-year running back Devine Ozigbo looked explosive on Sunday, Thompson had a day of his own. On the day, Thompson showcased his burst and explosiveness. He also was seen downing punts at one point in practice, perhaps a key role to look out for moving forward.
  • The pads go on tomorrow. It’s tough to get a feel for the Jaguars’ offensive and defensive linemen without pads. Tomorrow will be the first time media, coaches and fans at home will get a good look at how the team takes shape.