There are currently 90 players on each NFL roster and each team has to get down to 75 by next Tuesday and then to the final 53 a week from Saturday.
The undrafted rookie free agents are all trying to beat the odds because only a handful of them usually make the opening day roster.
Last year, the Jaguars had just three make it – defensive tackle Abry Jones, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds and long snapper Carson Tinker – even though they were rebuilding the roster.
This year, there appears to be only one undrafted rookie – wide receiver Allen Hurns – who doesn’t have to sweat out the final cuts although at least three others, tight end D. J. Tialavea, cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, and tackle Josh Wells, who’s currently injured, appear to have a shot at making it.
Hurns had one major thing going for him when he signed with the Jaguars after the draft. He was familiar with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s offense because Fisch spent two years at the University of Miami as the offensive coordinator when Hurns was there.
The Miami native then got a rare opportunity with the Jaguars because so many of the receivers went down with injuries that he was thrust into the starting lineup for the first two preseason games.
Coach Gus Bradley said, “It’s unfortunate the injuries we had at wide receiver, but because of that, it creates opportunity. Allen Hurns got reps with the ones and you saw him go against our corners and he caught our eye and now he’s really catching our eye doing a nice job.’’
Hurns has made big plays in each of the first two preseason games, catching a 24-yarder against Tampa Bay and a 45-yarder on the final play of the first half in Chicago.
For the two games, he has leads the team in catches (six), receiving yardage (117), average per catch (19. 5 yards) and longest catch (45).
Bradley said, “Sometimes with these rookies, you’re looking for the maturity level. You’re looking for how they grasp the offense. How well do they come into a whole new environment, how well do they compete? And it seemed like he was ahead of the curve and he was intriguing.’’
He then impressed the coaches with his play on the field.
Bradley said his reaction “Wow, this kid’s got some talent.’’
Bradley added, “By the end of the OTAs [organized team activities], he was almost like a diamond in the rough. He’s done some pretty good things and he’s really taking advantage of his opportunities. I think a big thing is that he can play multiple [receiver] positions.’’
Wide receiver coach Jerry Sullivan said, “He’s got great football IQ. He’s very coachable and faster than you think. He has strong hands, a tough kid, blocker and he’s getting better as a route runner.’’
When Sullivan was asked about his potential, he said, “Potential isn’t any good unless you’re doing it and he’s doing it.’’
Of his thoughts when he first saw him, Sullivan said, “I never get into a lot of prejudgment. I just kind of watch them and see what they do. How they respond. You can get into over judging guys and who’s supposed to do this and that. I just watch and see what they can do. He has a real inner urgency into wanting to excel. He’s very calm and listens to what you have to say and then tries to implement it. That coachability is so important.’’
Hurns has also impressed his fellow wide receivers.
Cecil Shorts said, “He’s very smart, a hard worker, very humble. He understands what he needs to get done and does it. He has a hunger to get better. He has improved tremendously from when he first got there.’’
Kerry Taylor said it helped that Hurns spent two years in the offense in Miami so he could concentrate on the challenge of learning techniques when he arrived in Jacksonville.
“He has all the physical tools. He’s real coachable. He does everything the coaches ask of him. When you have all those tools and work hard, you can do everything,’’ Taylor said.
And Hurns has good rapport with QB Chad Henne.
“I really like him,’’ Henne said. “He’s been in this offense for three years [counting the two in Miami]. He’s coming into his own. He runs routes, is quarterback friendly. He understands where to be in the right situations. He’s made some really big plays this preseason, so we keep pushing him along and getting him better each and every day. If he’s there for the taking, we give him the ball. He’s very good getting off press coverage and getting open for the quarterback.’’
At Miami last year, he was named the team’s MVP as he played in 13 games, started 11 an caught 63 passes for 1162 yards.
But he was had some injury issues in college, including tearing the labrum in both shoulders, and he’s not a speed burner. He was invited to the combine and labeled a late round pick, but wound up getting bypassed in the draft.
He said the snub was “very devastating’’ but he said it “gave me motivation and kept me humble.’’