Losing former Pro Bowl wide receiver Allen Robinson to a torn ACL was tough for Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone.
Robinson, in a contract year, did all that the coaching staff asked of him. Marrone admired his approach to the offseason and training camp.
That's why losing his top player on offense was all the more painful.
"Obviously to sit here and say 'this doesn't hurt,' the 'next man up' sort of thing, we all understand that in our profession, but what I think about is how hard A-Rob worked and how much he put in," Marrone said in conference call with local media Monday.
"I know what type of year he wanted to have and I think that's the thing that gets me as a coach more than anything. He's a player who has done everything you've asked him to do and was really set up for a great year and to sustain [a severe] injury it's obviously a blow."
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Robinson injured himself on the third offensive play of the game against Houston Sunday. Robinson caught a pass for 17 yards and ran out of bounds. When he returned to the field, he hobbled and eventually laid down to be tended to by Jacksonville's medical staff.
His status with the Jaguars moving forward is a tad gloomy in the final year of his contract. Unable to agree with the Jaguars on a contract extension this offseason, Robinson's gamble on himself may have already failed with a likely season-ending injury.
For the Jaguars, there are still 15 games left to play. The 29-7 win over the Texans in Week 1 put the team in sole possession of first place in the AFC South. The Jaguars were the only AFC South squad to pick up a win on Sunday.
The Jaguars will host the Tennessee Titans in Week 2. In order to beat Tennessee, the Jaguars will need to find a replacement for Robinson.
While the Jaguars have plenty of depth, Robinson is easily the most complete receiver on the roster. Now the Jaguars will have to rely on speedster Marqise Lee and possession receiver Allen Hurns moving forward.
"Well, obviously we have confidence in Marqise and Allen to step up," Marrone said.
Hurns and Lee, like Robinson, have been with the Jaguars since 2014. Lee was a highly-touted second round pick, while Hurns signed with the squad as an undrafted rookie.
The two players aren't alike at all. Neither is as well-rounded as Robinson.
Still, the situation beckons for a breakthrough.
Hurns put up over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015, benefiting from coverage that made Robinson more of a priority. He battled injuries all of the last season.
Lee had his strongest campaign opposite Robinson last season, while Hurns dealt with his ailments. Prior to the strong year, Lee spent his first two seasons rehabbing a hamstring injury on-and-off.
Without Robinson, the two will need to excel together. Quarterback Blake Bortles is losing his best option in the passing game, so Lee, Hurns or another receiver will have to step up.
The under-the-radar choice for a third contestant may be veteran wide receiver, Arrelious Benn. The special teams ace caught a 12-yard pass in the win against Houston.
Previously buried on a talented wide receiver depth chart, Benn could have a shot at reliving his glory days with Robinson sidelined. The former second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was once a talented starter before a string of serious injuries derailed his career.
Marrone is open to playing Benn on offense, giving him a chance to turn things around on offense in his seventh season.
"I think Arrelious obviously has done an excellent job for us on special teams and he's someone that we think we can use and put in the game and play," Marrone said. "He's a smart player, he can play different positions, which is going to be important for us as we move forward."
Hurns is likely to move from the slot to Robinson's X receiver spot. The move would open a hole in the slot for the Jaguars.
Benn played on the outside and inside early in his career. That versatility could help him earn increased opportunities.
"He can give us value," Marrone said. "We didn't keep him on the team specifically just for special teams. Obviously, you saw yesterday he was in the game, he had the reception, the nice catch, so he's someone that we feel we can put in there and get production with."
Along with Benn, Hurns, and Lee, undrafted rookie Keelan Cole will factor into the roster shift as well. The team could also bring in a free agent receiver to take Robinson's spot.
Either way, the Jaguars will be looking for an option outside of Robinson this season. While it's not an ideal spot to be in, the Jaguars have no other choice but to find a new No. 1 target for Bortles.
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