HOUSTON – Around 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson, on crutches and wearing a large brace on his left knee, walked out of a downtown hotel along with two members of the team’s medical staff for an off-site appointment.
The diagnosis was as feared: A torn ACL, ending his season after only three plays.
The Jaguars (1-0) must now find a way to replace their most established offensive play-maker.
“To watch a player who has done everything you ask him to do and was set up for a great year [and] to sustain an injury, it’s obviously a blow,” coach Doug Marrone said during a conference call.
A blow because Robinson was arguably the Jaguars’ best player during training camp, confident he could return to his 2015 which saw him catch 14 touchdown passes.
And it’s a blow to the offense because the Jaguars are running out of receivers – only four are healthy.
Robinson, in the final year of his contract, was injured while making a 17-yard catch during Sunday’s 29-7 win over Houston.
Just like that, his season was over.
“Sickening,” receiver Marqise Lee said. “He had worked so hard to get where he is.”
Said receiver Arrelious Benn: “It’s crazy because he was just talking about going through OTAs, mini-camp and training camp healthy and he was getting ready for a healthy season.”
It will be up to Lee and Allen Hurns plus Benn and rookie Keelan Cole to fill the huge void Robinson will leave. His 18 red zone touchdowns since the start of 2015 are most in the NFL.
In order, an educated guess on the depth chart entering Sunday’s game against Tennessee will be Lee, Hurns, Cole and Benn. When they put Robinson on injured reserve (Marrone said surgery has not been scheduled yet), the Jaguars could sign a street free agent receiver.
The receiving corps was depleted in the preseason when Rashad Greene and Shane Wynn were put on injured reserve. And last Friday, rookie Dede Westbrook (core muscle) was put on injured reserve although he could return at mid-season.
Minus Robinson, the Jaguars did not need much from their receivers against Houston. The Jaguars rushed 39 times and Blake Bortles attempted only 21 passes.
Hurns caught three passes for 42 yards and Benn one for 12 yards.
What the receivers need to clean up are the drops. Hurns, Lee and Cole had one apiece.
A free agent after the season, Lee will get a chance to prove he is worth a new contract. He has only five touchdowns in 40 games, but as a rookie in 2014, he caught 24 passes in the final six games when Robinson was shut down (foot injury).
“I know he’s ready for it and I know Hurns is ready for it,” Benn said.
Said Lee: “I’m preparing the same way I’ve been preparing;. nothing in my mind has [changed]. I’ll probably get a little bit more attention on my side [from defenses], but I’m not worried. We always prepare for this in the sense of, if somebody goes down, somebody has to step up. Good thing we have the right people to do it.”
Lee was a starter opposite Robinson, but now the Jaguars have to figure out if Hurns will move outside for two-receiver personnel or Cole can handle the larger role. Hurns can also play the slot.
Against the Texans, the play-time breakdown was 53 snaps for Lee(out of 64), followed by Hurns (51), Cole (19) and Benn (seven). The Jaguars used a steady diet of two-tight end and two-back personnel.
Lee did not play in the final three preseason games because of an ankle injury but made it through the Texans game in good order.
“Slowly but surely, it’s coming around,” Lee said. “I have no worries, really. I’m not feeling any pain. … I’m ready for the challenge. This is what we play football for. Me and Hurns have a lot of work to do along with getting the young one [Cole] up to par with everything and getting his mind right.”