Jaguars' DJ Chark aims to match productivity of his position coach

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars wideout DJ Chark’s breakout season ended with a touchdown catch in the Pro Bowl.

He is treating it as if it never happened, though.

Mainly because it’s not going to make a difference to anyone. Not wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, quarterback Gardner Minshew, head coach Doug Marrone -- and certainly not any opposing defensive backs.

“Last year is over,” Chark said. “Once I am done playing, I can look back on whatever years I went to the Pro Bowl or had winning seasons and talk to my kids about that. As far as right now, this 2020 season, we are not going to get any wins and I am not going to make any accolades based off last year.

“So that is out of the window at this point.”

Chark can easily dismiss what he did in 2019 -- 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns -- but that was a significant accomplishment, because it made him just the fifth player in franchise history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season and only the fourth wide receiver to make a Pro Bowl as a member of the Jaguars. It also means he will be measured against the only two Jaguars wideouts to record multiple 1,000-yard seasons and earn multiple trips to the Pro Bowl.

Jimmy Smith is the greatest receiver in franchise history. He caught 862 passes for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns in 11 seasons in Jacksonville. He made a franchise-high five Pro Bowls. Yet his most eye-popping accomplishment was his nine 1,000-yard seasons, including seven in a row from 1996 to 2002.

Smith is the gold standard for every wide receiver to wear the black and teal. But not far behind is McCardell, who caught 499 passes for 6,393 yards and 30 touchdowns and made four Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Jaguars (1996-2001).

McCardell wants to see a lot from Chark in his third season.

“I’ve got big expectations for DJ, and I don’t want to overload him too much with what I want from him,” McCardell said. “I’m going to ease it to him, because you start to throw too much on him and he gets to thinking. I want my guys to be able to play fast and have fun.

“And take a leadership role, just a little bit more. You know, demand more from the people around him. I mean, OK, you play receiver, but you can demand more from every position in that huddle. I mean, if you’re playing at a high level, demand it from everybody else. And just be a spirit that brings good vibes to the huddle, good vibes to this team. You know, everybody has seen you go to the Pro Bowl, you’re this, you’re that. Now, don’t rest on your laurels and say, ‘Well, OK, I’ve been there; you guys haven’t been there.’ No, I want all of us to go there; let’s get there. Let’s take this thing to not just to the Pro Bowl; let’s take this thing to the Super Bowl.”

As it was when Chark went from his rookie season -- when he played mainly special teams and caught just 14 passes for 174 yards -- to 2019, Chark’s biggest leap is going to be his mental approach. He admitted after his rookie season he didn’t know how hard he had to study off the field just to hold his own. Now, he’s working on the finer points of his game.

That involves picking the brain of one of the Jaguars’ most experienced defensive starters in cornerback D.J. Hayden, who along with tackle Abry Jones is in his eighth season.

“He’s very smart. He knows route patterns, based off your stem [the direction of a receiver’s release off the line of scrimmage],” Chark said of Hayden. “He can easily read your route before you are at the top of your route. I ask him things about that. If he gets me on a play, it’s, ‘What did I do that you saw this, this early to be able to jump this route?’

“Then next time, I won’t do it. So, next time he will have to figure out a new way to jump my route because I am not going to run it the same way.”

McCardell said it shows that Chark, who will turn 24 in September, is beginning to more completely understand the nuances of playing in the NFL.

“In college, you can just run and not a lot of people are doubling you and everything’s so spread out wide open; and up here in the pros, it’s a little bit tighter,” McCardell said. “You have [assignments in the] run game. People are rolling coverages to the best receiver or to the two best receivers and stuff like that.

“But as you get older, you’ll start to understand and see why they’re doing it, and you’ll start to understand how your presence also can help the offense and other players.”

Chark also understands that the trait all great players have is the ability to consistently play at a high level. Smith and McCardell did it, and if Chark can do it in 2020, he’ll have the chance to join them as the only wideouts to have multiple 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

It sounds like he is at least off to a good start in camp.

“This is the most connected I have felt to the offense -- and to the players on the offense -- in a long time,” Chark said. “With the addition of [offensive coordinator] Coach [Jay] Gruden being a head coach, knowing how to get his guys ready, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of his players, we are in good shape.”