Few members of the Jacksonville Jaguars have a bigger microscope on their performance this fall than former second-round wide receiver Laviska Shenault -- a challenge the talented playmaker seems to be taking head on.
"He stressed to me [in] our very first meeting that, you know, he knows this is a big year for him," Jaguars wide receivers coach Chris Jackson said at the end of OTAs.
"He had a great rookie year, he told me he left a little football on the field last year, you know, and he just wanted to come into this year, and get back on track and play to his level that feels like he's capable of playing at."
Shenault's assessment of his first two years with the Jaguars shows a sense of awareness and ownership from the former No. 42 overall pick. The pressure is on Shenault entering year three, his first year under Jackson's coaching and in Doug Pederson's and Press Taylor's offense.
"I just told him, however I can help, you know, so what I've been preaching to him to be honest with you, is just being a pro. And I explained to him what that really means," Jackson said.
"It's not just because you're a professional athlete, it's this is going to be something that you're going to be able to take with you when football is done. And that is how to approach the littlest things of taking care of your body, you know, being on time."
As a rookie, Shenault caught 58 passes for 600 yards and five touchdowns on the NFL's worst team. On a one-win team badly in need of playmakers, Shenault stood out time and time again. But then the 2021 season happened. Just like for every other Jaguar, the Urban Meyer era brought some especially shaky moments from Shenault.
In 16 games, Shenault caught 63 passes for 619 yards and zero touchdowns, bringing his yards per catch mark down from 10.3 to 9.8 and his yards per target figure down from 7.6 to 6.2. Shenault's catch percentage also took a big hit; after catching 73.4% of his targets in 2020, he caught just 63% in 2021 as Pro Football Reference credited him with eight drop after just three as a rookie.
The Jaguars made changes to the receiver room and coaching staff after the team's disastrous 2021 season. Not only was Meyer and his staff replaced by Pederson and his own, but the Jaguars also signed two free agent receivers who will likely cut into Shenault's playing time with Christian Kirk and Zay Jones.
To show he can contribute in a depth role, Shenault took the selfless route of asking for an audition at punt returner, a role he got looks at during OTAs.
“I mean listen, he’s another player that wants to win and do what he can for the team," Pederson said during OTAs. "For him to want to do that just shows, I think, maturity with him and where he is in the stage of his career. The more people that stand up and want to do more things, the better off we’re going to be.”
To Jackson, Shenault's decision to add a special teams element to his skill set is a sign of his maturity and understanding of the value of versatility. Shenault wasn't used on special teams his first two seasons, but as a potential No. 4 receiver who doesn't see full-time snaps on offense, it is necessary to carry some kind of special teams trump card. Shenault appears to have embraced this.
"So he wants to add that to his repertoire. And I just told him, the more that you can put, you know, in your repertoire, the more valuable you're going to be," Jackson said.
Jackson, like Pederson, Taylor and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, had all positive things to say about what he has seen from Shenault so far this offseason. He will enter training camp in a different role than he has ever been in, but it appears the former second-rounder's mindset is exactly where one would hope it would be.
"So that's all I have been preaching to him man. He's got to work ethic, he busts his butt, but now it's just kind of putting the whole package together," Jackon said.
"And I just told him, I'm here to help mold all that, you know, so I'm slowly building some relationships with some trust with him. And, you know, so far he's taken it on and he's had a great offseason."