JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said Monday that Justin Blackmon’s suspension “was disappointing” for the wide receiver and the Jaguars.
Blackmon was suspended indefinitely without pay Friday for his latest violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He was previously suspended the first four games of this season for violating the policy. The latest violation is his third offense in about 18 months.
“It was disappointing … for him and for our team to find out the information,” Bradley said in his first public comments since the suspension became known. “We’re just handling it day by day right now. I think for me right now, the best thing for us and our organization is we’re focusing on our team and the tasks that we have in front of us.”
That would include the Jaguars (0-8) getting that elusive first victory of the season. They play at Tennessee on Sunday.
Blackmon had been suspended the first four games of the 2013 season. He played in the team’s next four games, and was the Jaguars leading receiver during that stretch with 29 receptions for 415 yards.
Unlike the earlier four-game suspension, Blackmon won’t be allowed in the building during this one. He will be eligible to apply for reinstatement prior to the start of the 2014 season.
During the earlier four-game suspension, Bradley had lauded Blackmon for staying focused and said he was encouraged by the numerous conversations that he had with his talented receiver. Still, the Jaguars first-year coach said he didn’t feel betrayed by Blackmon.
“Obviously I am disappointed. I am disappointed in what took place, but I think there’s something bigger out there that we’re working on with him,” Bradley said. “Part of this that was handed down from the NFL was the bigger part of it and that part we’re trying to guide him in that direction.”
While Blackmon sat out the first four games, the Jaguars averaged 224 yards of total offense. In the four games he played in since, Jacksonville hiked its offensive output to just over 350 yards per game.
“He is a difference-maker. I think he definitely helped us, especially the Denver game” with 14 catches for 190 yards, Bradley said.
The team will now look to other receivers on the roster to step up and play a bigger role. Leading receiver Cecil Shorts (46 catches, 565 yards) will be asked to do even more, as will the other four wide receivers on the roster – Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Stephen Burton and Stephen Williams.
Burton could be the key. He was a part of the rotation earlier in the season but hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in the third week of the season. The coaching staff likes what he had shown prior to the injury.
“We’ve always been intrigued by” Burton, Bradley said. “He’s 6-1, 220 pounds and (runs) a 4.4 (40 yard dash). We’ve been really developing him to see what he can do. He’s got an opportunity now along with the other guys to step up.”
Blackmon’s teammates showed support for the second-year receiver from Oklahoma State.
“I thought he was doing well, a lot better,” Shorts said. “But things happen. I’m sure he’s going through the proper steps to get better. I think this will be a positive thing for him in the end.
“As for our team, we have eight more games. It’s not like season is over, no one is giving up. We’ve got to fight through the adversity and make the best of things.”
Quarterback Chad Henne believes Justin is a changed person.
“Whatever happened, I’m not sure, I haven’t heard the whole story,” Henne said. “But we will continue to support him.”
Added veteran center Brad Meester, in his 14th season with the Jaguars: “The biggest thing is that he needs to get help. No one is mad at him, that’s not what this is about. It’s about him getting help and getting his life right, that’s the most important thing.”
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