JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns caught a sweet pass in the center of the field Sunday, a Ravens defender in tight coverage nailed him with a crushing blow to his right arm.
Hurns held on, his body crashing toward the ground, but not without yet another aching consequence. Two days after he shed a walking boot from a foot injury -- and one day before he'd visit a specialist for a lingering sports hernia -- the rising star ran off the field with yet another body part dangling in pain.
"The way I see it, I'm going to get hit regardless," Hurns said Tuesday, quietly seated at his locker after practice. "Might as well reward myself by still making the catch."
As the Jaguars prepare for "Thursday Night Football" against the Titans, still only one game back in the underwhelming AFC South despite having just three wins on the season, Hurns says he will be out on the field even though eventual surgery to repair his groin injury is still likely. This, for those unaware, is among the reasons why the Jaguars remain a team to watch.
Maybe you still don't care right now. Maybe you'll have little reason to care for the rest of this season. But even if the notion continues to fall on deaf and uninterested ears for the time being, Jacksonville is ascending. And Hurns is a perfect symbol of the rise. Young and quiet -- but tough and talented. Largely underrated -- but up-and-coming.
Despite all of the pain, Hurns (an undrafted free-agent signing last year) has a touchdown in each of the last seven games. He's the youngest player to put together a streak this lengthy since Randy Moss did it in 1998. And he's still only the second-best receiver on the team, behind Allen Robinson.
Some around the Jaguars building say Hurns and Robinson are truly special, two players with work ethic and commitment that is up there, as one source put it, with the "top one percent in the NFL." Wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who has been a football coach for 42 years, said Wednesday that Hurns' work ethic and toughness compare very closely to a rookie receiver he drilled 12 years ago: Anquan Boldin. In terms of compliments from people with experience and knowledge, you won't get much better than that.
What would it take to keep Hurns off the field? According to quarterback Blake Bortles, "Some bone would definitely have to break."
But this isn't merely about the talent of one player -- it takes 52 more guys to field a successful team. No, this is about the future, and it is about the precedent that's being set.
This offseason, the Jaguars considered signing Greg Jennings because their wide receivers room was so young, and thus, could benefit from a veteran's potential teachings. Then they realized something: Hurns and Robinson already approach the job like seasoned vets. And other players, like Rashad Greene and Marqise Lee, are following that lead.
In a different position room, rookie running back T.J. Yeldon has been playing through pain, as well. And he's doing it as a first-year pro who has successfully assumed a role as a three-down back far earlier than anyone could have expected. The result? Only one rookie running back -- Todd Gurley -- has more yards.
Yes, this is the identity of the Jaguars. This is the reason, while skeptics merely see a three-win bunch in a bad division, why those who are around the team feel like the sun isn't very far from peeking over the horizon. Young players are rallying around one another, toughing it out and creating an environment of consistency.
"It means a lot, seeing guys in the huddle every play," Bortles said. "Guys see that. Guys recognize that."
For now, this is still a team that has lost bad games this year, games that people will use as ammunition against it. The Jaguars can't lose three consecutive games to teams like the Colts, Bucs and Texans, as they did earlier this season. Sure, they also have wins against the Dolphins and Bills. But this team ultimately needs to turn more games into wins.
How will they do it? Well, it starts with creating an environment of accountability and toughness combined with talent and execution. It starts with young players like Hurns and Robinson and Yeldon and Bortles.
Then, it's about getting wins in games like the one coming up Thursday against Tennessee -- a prospect that is at least much brighter with players like Hurns taking big hits and turning them into big plays.
Has Hurns, who just visited a groin specialist in Philadelphia on Monday, even considered not playing on Thursday night? "Not at all," he said.
And that's exactly why the Jaguars still have a chance this season -- and, more importantly, beyond.