Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley will be fighting for playing time the moment they begin training camp for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When the Jacksonville Jaguars open training camp at the end of the month, the most interesting battle might be amongst the wide receivers.
The one thing wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell is sure of is that DJ Chark walks into camp and the clear No. 1 pass catcher. After that, the variables change. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone and general manager David Caldwell were adamant about adding playmakers to the roster. That was done in free agency with the addition of tight end Tyler Eifert and by taking wide receiver Laviska Shenault in the second round of the NFL Draft and following it up in the fifth round when the team selected Collin Johnson.
The moves give new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden more options for the passing game and more opportunity to change things up in his playbook.
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I’m interested to see who wins the second wide receiver slot between Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley – two players who figure prominently for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. While the two veterans may put on a classic battle in camp, the roles they fill with the team are as much about remaining in Jacksonville in 2021 as they are helping this team spread the field in 2020.
Westbrook is playing this season in the final year of his rookie deal. Conley had his option picked up this offseason. Both could be playing their final seasons in black and teal. A strong effort by both could mean extensions next offseason.
The Jacksonville Jaguars won’t lack speed with Conley, Westbrook, and Chark all running under 4.4 in the 40. It will also help that quarterback Gardner Minshew will be under center in his second season with the team in a system that is better suited to his abilities. Gruden’s desire to mix things up and utilize his players’ strengths in multiple sets could make for a fun season.
Everything starts in camp. Looking at the bigger picture, the wide receivers on the roster – which also includes Keelan Cole – aren’t a bad combination, but they aren’t elite and need to show they can perform at a higher level in 2020.
Westbrook fought through injuries to quietly catch 66 passes last season, which is the same total he led the team in 2018. Conley caught 47 passes and was a second and third option for the Jaguars’ quarterbacks last year. Given the tight ends will be used more this season, provided they are healthy, and this passing game may take off.
The Jaguars had a top 10 offense in 2017, but the past two seasons have seen this group plunge into the deep waters of the NFL abyss. Gruden is known as a good coordinator from his time in Cincinnati before he became the head coach in Washington. The best thing Marrone can do is let Gruden work his magic, which will mean both Conley and Westbrook could have career seasons.
But it all starts with training camp. And if the two wide receivers can elevate each other, then the Jacksonville Jaguars passing game may carry this team farther than most are expecting. It should make for a lively camp this season, with more on the line than just deciding which 53 men suit up in 2020.