For the second straight year, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be without their top receiver, after coach Doug Marrone announced Monday that Marqise Lee will have season-ending knee surgery and be placed on injured reserve.
“Obviously, it’s a loss for us,” Marrone said. “Marqise brought a level of toughness to that room. He was obviously a very productive player for us in the past, specifically on third down.”
Lee suffered the knee injury when Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee delivered a low blow during last Saturday’s preseason game at TIAA Bank Field. Kazee was penalized for lowering his helmet to initiate contact.
Lee pulled in 56 receptions for 702 yards and three touchdowns in 2017-2018, a season that started in a similar manner when former Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson suffered a torn ACL in the team’s first game of the season against the Houston Texans. Lee was counted on to fill the void for Robinson, and has become a veteran leader in the locker room. Now, it will be up to Lee’s fellow receivers to do the same. Fortunately, those other receivers have the confidence of their head coach.
“I feel very confident about the players that we have at that position,” Marrone said on Monday. “I still see there is competition there. We’re not settled on some of the spots at receiver, but we feel that we are good enough to go into the season with the guys that we think can make the team.”
Among those guys is second-year player Keelan Cole, the undrafted free agent who last year had 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns. He knows what is expected of him now.
“I’ve just got to step up,” he said. “I know he’s (Lee) going to be there physically and spiritually, so we’re just going to listen to him and keep learning and keep on moving forward.”
The Jaguars will also have to count on Donte Moncrief, the fifth-year player formerly of the Indianapolis Colts whom the Jaguars signed as a free agent in the offseason, and second-year player Dede Westbrook, the former Biletnikoff Award winner at Oklahoma who had 27 receptions for 339 yards and one touchdown last year with Jacksonville.
Also expected to deliver in Lee’s absence is rookie receiver DJ Chark Jr., who was drafted by the Jaguars in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of LSU. So far, the rookie has received rave reviews during training camp and the preseason. He told the Recorder after the Falcons game he understands expectations for him have risen after Lee’s injury.
“I feel like now more is required from me,” Chark said. “At first, I was a guy that was being brought along for future references. Play here and there, play with the ones but it wasn’t on my shoulders. And now it’s still not on my shoulders, but a lot more is required.
“The role has increased and at this point, the team is getting cut pretty soon to 53, which means, I was already going to be involved heavily, but now it’s way more serious, because the numbers are shorter,” Chark added. “So now I have to just make sure I’m holding up my end of the bargain for my team and myself.”
With Lee going down, many have questioned if the Jaguars will consider targeting a free agent such as former Dallas Cowboy Dez Bryant, which Marrone generally addressed on Monday.
“No, I think we feel comfortable with what we have now,” Marrone said about targeting the waiver wire. “If we feel at any position that we can get ourselves better, we’re always going to look at that. That’s kind of business as usual for us.”