Go ahead, tell the smallest player in Jaguars’ history that he’s a long shot to make the 53-man roster and may have to find employment somewhere else, maybe even out of the NFL.
You think 5-foot-6, 168-pound Shane Wynn, who was cut by five different teams in a span of one year, hasn’t been down this road before? You think the training camp exploits of undrafted rookie Keelan Cole, including that 97-yard touchdown catch Thursday against the New England Patriots, discourage him or make Wynn wonder if there’s a role for him with the 2017 Jaguars?
Not a chance. Wynn has been dealing with tough odds and overcoming the too-short-to-succeed-in-football perception his whole life, ever since he started playing as a 6-year-old with the East Cleveland Chiefs in Pop Warner. Trying to convince Wynn he doesn’t belong in the NFL is about as fruitless a task as asking him to stop breathing.
“Every time somebody tells me I can’t do something, I just use that as fuel for my fire,” Wynn said after Saturday’s camp practice. “It just makes me go harder than what I could do. As long as I’m working out there, I feel like I can do anything.”
This has always been Wynn’s mindset. Tough circumstances just don’t faze him.
Not growing up in an all-female household with four sisters, his mother Kimberly and family matriarch, Marlene Bell, Wynn’s maternal grandmother. Or not once meeting his father or knowing his whereabouts. Or not being drafted.
And certainly not the football revolving door that was his pre-Jaguars employment: Atlanta Falcons (43 days), hometown Cleveland Browns (72 days), New York Jets practice squad (12 days), San Diego Chargers practice squad (9 days) and New Orleans Saints (a January-to-May fling).
Technically, the Jaguars cut him, too, releasing him the week before the 2016 season opener and immediately placed him on the practice squad. Wynn stayed there for 11 games, then got activated for the last five weeks after Rashad Greene’s season-ending Achilles injury. He caught a 19-yard pass against the Minnesota Vikings last December for his only NFL regular-season reception, and now he’s back fighting arguably the Jaguars’ most difficult numbers game at receiver.
“Being activated and making it in the NFL was one of my goals,” Wynn said. “Now I have to do it again.”
It’s a good thing he still has practice-squad eligibility, which might be Wynn’s season-opening destination, because receiver is the Jaguars’ deepest position group. Veterans Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and the sidelined Allen Hurns will be keepers, along with fourth-round draft pick Dede Westbrook. With Cole shining as a receiver and Arrelious Benn certain to make it as a core special-teams player, Wynn is facing an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster.
It’s not like he hasn’t flashed as a receiver (Wynn turned a short pass from Chad Henne for a 17-yard pickup against New England) or made the most of limited special-teams opportunities. The coaching staff has noticed his body of work and relentless work ethic.
“Don’t be fooled by his size,” said head coach Doug Marrone. “He’s tough as hell, can get off press coverage and make big plays, can run. It was interesting because we had him on special teams [as a gunner], also, just the little bit of technique of closing down the edges.
“He came right off the edge and had a chance to make a big play, just the angle was a little bit off, but that’s easily correctable for a player like him. He’s made plays all through this camp.”
The truth is Wynn has been impressing football people at every level. At Cleveland’s Glenville High, where he was coached by Ted Ginn Sr. (father of New Orleans Saints receiver Ted Jr.), he had nine kick/punt returns for TDs. Led by Wynn and former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, the Tarblooders became the first Cleveland public school to play for a state championship, losing 16-15 on a last-minute, two-point conversion.
At Indiana (2011-14), Wynn took advantage of his oversized hands and speed, starting the last 36 games to catch 170 passes for 2,001 yards and 20 TDs. Though he didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine, he clocked a 40 time of 4.29 at his Pro Day, the second-fastest among NFL prospects.
While Jaguars’ GM Dave Caldwell tried to sign him, Wynn opted to take an offer from the Falcons, then bounced around with four other teams before earning his shot in Jacksonville.
It’s tough to gauge whether the 24-year-old receiver will make the roster or have any definitive role with the Jaguars in 2017. One thing is certain: Wynn won’t be losing any sleep over his football future.
“I just do what I can do, keep competing,” said Wynn. “I don’t worry about whether I’m going to get picked to stay [with the Jaguars]. I just keep the grind going, keep nailing at it until you can’t no more.
“I don’t care at all about what people say. What’s height and weight got to do with it? My size or my height doesn’t matter. You cannot teach heart. If you go out there, know what you’re doing, study your opponent, and you make plays, I feel like I can do anything.”
The long and short of it is Shane Wynn refuses to give up on football. His heart just might be big enough for the Jaguars to keep him around.
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