New rule helps Blackmon handle suspension

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon has just two more days before he has to take his pads off for a month.

After Wednesday’s walk-through and Thursday’s preseason finale against Atlanta, the second-year player from Oklahoma State begins his four-week suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Had this happened last season, there would have been a lot more concern about how Blackmon would handle being away from the team for a month.

But thanks to a change in NFL policy that allows players suspended for violating the substance abuse policy to remain around the facility and participate in meetings, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is less worried about potential problems.

"The good thing is he can be around us the four weeks," Bradley said. "He can be here. I don’t think he can be out at practice but he can be in our meetings, he can be around the team, he can be in the locker room so I think it’s a great move by the NFL to allow that to happen. To keep him around the environment I think is a good thing."

Blackmon, who caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie last season, is able to participate in meetings, work out at the facility, and hang out with teammates in the locker room. He can’t participate in practice or go to games, although team officials are in discussions with the NFL about bringing Blackmon with them to Oakland for the second game of the season because the team will spend the following week in California while preparing to play at Seattle. This is the first year of the new policy. Previously, players had to remain away from the facility for the length of the suspension.

"It makes it a lot better that I can be here at the facility, go through the meetings and everything but I just can’t go out there and practice, so that helps out," Blackmon said. "I get to see the game plan, see everything that’s going on. I’m doing everything except going out there and doing the physical part."

The four-game suspension is for Blackmon’s second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy in less than a year and third substance-related incident in less than three years. Bradley said he’s pleased with the progress Blackmon has made in trying to get his life in order.

"What I found out about Justin Blackmon is he’s really a competitor," Bradley said. "When you compete like that every day you gravitate towards guys like that, and I think he’s making progress on the other side, too, as far as putting his world in order and his life in order. He knows he’s not there yet but he’s making good progress on it. Everything we’re asking of him to do he’s doing, meeting-wise inside and outside and meeting with me and being consistent on that.

"So I hold him in high regard as far as that. He’s doing the things that we’re asking but it’s a process."

Blackmon has insisted he doesn’t have a substance-abuse problem. He said the Jaguars have a good support system in place and he believes he has the trust of the organization’s management. All he’s worried about right now is getting on the field as much as he can against the Falcons. That’s going to be the last time he’ll be in pads until his return on Sept. 30.

"I want to play as much as they’ll let me play," he said. "I’ve always been that way and I’ll continue to be that way.

"I try not to think about it [the suspension] at all because I know it’s going to be tough to do, sitting here watching the team. But all I can do is encourage them and try to help out in any way."