Shorts injury adds pressure to rookie WRs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If there’s a snake bit position group on the Jacksonville Jaguars' roster, it has to be the wide receivers.

Seven sat out all or significant parts of OTAs and minicamp with injuries. Ace Sanders has taken a leave of absence to deal with personal issues and also is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Justin Blackmon, who is still serving an indefinite suspension, was arrested last week in Oklahoma.

And now Cecil Shorts -- the only proven receiver on the roster -- is going to be out for at least two weeks with a grade two right hamstring strain. It’s the latest in a string of injuries that have cost the fourth-year player 11 games in his first three seasons.

If I were the Jaguars, I’d encase second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in bubble wrap. Immediately.

The development of those two rookies, who were among the players that missed time in the spring with injuries, has now become one of the most important issues of the early part of training camp. Any setback, particularly an injury, will certainly impact the passing game and as a byproduct affect the development of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

Shorts has 123 career catches. The remaining receivers on the roster have a combined 80, so there’s not a lot of experience available. That means Lee and Robinson -- whom general manager David Caldwell said Friday were drafted to complement, not replace, Shorts – are under more pressure to learn the offense and adjust to the speed of the game so they can be significant contributors.

Based on Shorts’ injury history, they both may need to be in the starting lineup Week 1.

Robinson was already working with the first unit on Friday at the X receiver spot. Lee worked in the slot but he also will spend time at the X and Z spots. And while the Jaguars do feel much better about their depth at receiver than they did last season, Lee and Robinson are the players the offense needs to step up.

Mike Brown, Tandon Doss and Kerry Taylor are solid but Lee and Robinson bring the game-breaking ability the offense lacks. Lee caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career at Southern California, including 118 for 1,721 yards and 14 TDs in 2012. He’s a speedster who has the ability to stretch the defense and can take a short pass and turn it into a long gain.

Robinson caught 177 passes for 2,474 yards and 17 touchdowns at Penn State. He’s a bigger target (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), which is something the Jaguars haven’t had at receiver since Matt Jones.

"They're coming along well," Shorts said. "I know it was tough for them sitting out a month, being high draft picks and wanting to play, wanting to contribute. They did a good job of getting back healthy, and they looked good on the first day.

"They understand the game and understand how to study, and a lot of guys from college don't understand that."

They're going to have to progress quickly. The passing game may depend on it.