2020 was a disatrous year for the Jacksonville Jaguars across the board, but for some position groups even more so than others -- specifically at wide receiver.
While expectations outside of Jacksonville were always low, the hope inside TIAA Bank Field was that the Jaguars could prove the doubters wrong. The Jaguars, of course, failed to do so as a young and injured roster limped to a 1-15 season.
But the expectations were low for the team, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with low expectations for the receivers unit. DJ Chark was coming off a Pro Bowl season, Keelan Cole's numbers were rising and second-round rookie Laviska Shenault took his place in the starting offense.
Even with this in mind, as the Jaguars continued to stack loss atop of loss, the supposed strength of the team continued to underperform and underproduce. A big part of that was due to the team's quarterback play and constant rotation of quarterbacks over the second half of the season.
And according to claims made by former Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith, another factor was the Jaguars limiting their own coaching staff -- including former wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, a longtime teammate of Smith's in Jacksonville during the late 1990s/early 2000s.
"Keenan McCardell was not allowed to coach like he wanted to. Let me say it again. Keenan McCardell was not allowed to coach the receivers the way he wanted to," Smith claimed on Thursday during a radio apperance on 'XL Primetime' on 1010XL/92.5 FM Jacksonville Sports Radio
McCardell was one of several Jaguars assistants who wasn't retained after owner Shad Khan fired former head coach Doug Marrone in January. One of the most productive receivers and beloved players in franchise history, McCardell oversaw the Jaguars' receivers room from 2017-2020.
The Jaguars had just one 1,000-yard receiver during that span, with DJ Chark recording 73 catches for 1,008 yards (13.8 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. Those numbers all dipped in 2020 however, with Chark then catching 53 passes for 706 yards and five touchdowns, seeing his yards per target decrease from 8.5 to 7.6 and his catch percentage regress from 61.9% to 57%.
As Smith alleged it on the airwaves on Thursday, McCardell being unable to coach the position group as he intended played a role in Chark's stunted development in 2020. Smith points to the receivers "standing straight up at the line of scrimmage," as potential evidence that the receivers were asked to do different things than McCardell wanted.
"Because we know that is not Keenan. We know that is not the way that we played and I know that is not the way that he wants to coach. Because the route running begins by your stance as a wide receiver," Smith said. "If you are standing straight up, they are going to play the bongos on your chest. Those DBs are going to have a field day on your chest. If you get your torso down below your pads, they can't do that.
"That is just like football route running 101. And you know, those who know the game knew that Keenan McCardell was not allowed to coach those receivers. And it affected DJ Chark's development because Keenan was not allowed to coach those receivers the way he wanted to."
While this is the first mention of any possible limitations on McCardell or other members of the Jaguars' coaching staff during the Marrone era, it wouldn't be the first time that it has been pointed out that the Jaguars' receivers lacked a sense of physicality in 2020, specifically Chark.
Meyer pointed out on June 3 that Chark "didn't play well last year," noting that his size and strength and inability to play to his frame were below the standards the Jaguars are looking for. To his credit, Chark has attacked the challenge and earned praise from Meyer for his ability to add on muscle during the offseason.
“I love the challenge. I also told Coach that I’m like that. When I go out there, I ball. I love talking to Coach Meyer," Chark said following Meyer's comments.
"He’s a competitor. He’s going to push me. He also knows I’m going to do what I do; I’m going to step up, I’m going to make plays."
Meyer opted to not retain McCardell when he took the Jaguars job, instead hiring former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver coach Sanjay Lal. McCardell has since joined the Minnesota Vikings as wide receivers coach.
Lal served as a senior offensive assistant for the Seattle Seahawks in 2020 and served as a wide receivers coach in the NFL for a decade before that, including with the Dallas Cowboys (2018-19). He also coached receivers previously with Indianapolis (2017), Buffalo (2015-16), the N.Y. Jets (2012-14) and Oakland (2009-11). From 2007-08, he was an offensive quality control coach for the Raiders.