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Long shot Keelan Cole creeping closer to roster spot


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Competition for what is most likely the final roster spot among receivers is getting a lot more intense after what happened during the Jacksonville Jaguars' 31-24 victory over New England at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night.

Rookie Keelan Cole, second-year player Shane Wynn and third-year veteran Rashad Greene each made big plays against the Patriots' reserves. At this point, they are fighting to be the team's sixth receiver behind Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Arrelious Benn and Dede Westbrook. Provided, of course, that the Jaguars do keep six receivers.

The addition of a fullback to the offense for the first time since 2014 could impact the number of players at running back, tight end or receiver. The Jaguars could opt to keep four running backs and only five receivers. Or they could carry an extra offensive lineman. Maybe they only keep two quarterbacks instead of three.

The prevailing thought, however, is the Jaguars will keep six receivers. Robinson, Lee and Hurns are no-brainers. Coach Doug Marrone recently said that Benn has done an outstanding job at receiver and on special teams, where he's expected to be one of the team's core players, so Benn is pretty much a lock as well. Westbrook was the team's fourth-round pick -- he was rated much higher but dropped because of off-field issues -- and has made steady progress in camp. He caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen against the Patriots, and it would be a surprise if he didn't make the roster.

So it's Cole, Wynn and Greene fighting to be the sixth receiver. After Thursday night's game, it would seem Cole has an edge over Greene with Wynn running third.

Cole went undrafted out of Kentucky Wesleyan, where he compiled 4,582 receiving yards and caught 59 touchdown passes in four seasons. He walked on with the Panthers after not receiving any scholarship offers out of high school, where he played defensive back, receiver and quarterback. He was a ridiculous long shot when camp began, but he just kept flashing and catching almost everything thrown at him.

The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Cole made the game's biggest play on Thursday night, beating second-year cornerback Cyrus Jones off the line and hauling in a deep pass from Chad Henne for a 97-yard touchdown.

Greene was a disappointment in 2016 after a solid rookie season as the Jaguars' punt returner. He missed seven games with a hand injury but averaged 16.7 yards on 18 returns and took one back for a touchdown. He also turned two games around with big punt returns. His 63-yarder in the fourth quarter set up the Jaguars’ go-ahead touchdown one play later in their 19-13 victory over Tennessee in November. Three weeks later, Greene returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown to break open a close game against Indianapolis.

Greene was supposed to compete with Lee to be the team's third receiver, but Lee was so impressive from the start that Greene didn’t have much of a chance. He didn't make an impact as a punt returner, either, averaging just 6.3 yards per punt return. He also muffed three punts and missed three games with an Achilles injury and was eventually placed on injured reserve on Dec. 3.

He didn't have a great start against the Patriots, either, dropping a pass from Blake Bortles on a crossing pattern that would have converted a third down. He did bounce back, though, with a 41-yard punt return to set up a field goal.

Wynn signed with the Jaguars in June 2016 and spent the first 12 weeks of the season on the practice squad. He caught one pass for 19 yards and ran twice for 5 yards in the final five games. He's hampered a bit by his size (5-foot-6, 168 pounds) but, like Cole, has made plays throughout training camp. He caught one pass for 17 yards against the Patriots, but it did convert a third-and-2 early in the second quarter.

Tampa Bay is in town for joint practices on Monday and Tuesday, and the teams will play at EverBank Field Thursday night. The competition among Cole, Greene and Wynn is one of the storylines to watch.