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Jaguars’ WR Sanders finds a way to hang on

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The Sports Xchange

JACKSONVILLE — On paper, Ace Sanders probably shouldn’t still be on the Jacksonville Jaguars roster.

The fourth-round draft pick had a decent rookie season with 51 catches for 484 yards but only one touchdown. He was also used as a punt returner, averaging 5.6 yards a return on 25 opportunities.

But shortly thereafter, things went south for the former South Carolina standout. He received a four-game ban from the NFL to start the 2014 season for violating the substance abuse policy.

Not being with the club for those four weeks set him back and while he appeared in each of the final 12 games, he caught six passes for 55 yards.

The punt-return average went up to 7.1, but with the emergence of rookies Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee, Sanders was all but forgotten in the passing game.

Many envisioned for him to be gone by this time, but he’s stayed within the good graces of the Jaguars’ coaching staff with his solid work ethic in the offseason.

That has transitioned over to the playing field for the team’s OTAs, where Sanders has emerged as one of the top receivers. With Robinson and Lee nursing injuries, it’s increased Sanders’ opportunities and he’s taken advantage.

“When you talk about Ace, he keeps stacking them up,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said about Sanders’ good daily showing. “It’s nothing that jumps out, but just very, very solid.”

While the Jaguars haven’t done a lot of work in the punt-return game during OTAs, Bradley said he hopes Sanders will show the same increased production with that unit that he’s shown as a receiver.

“I’m hoping what I see from Ace as a wide receiver shows up as a punt returner,” Bradley said.

Sanders walks around the locker room with a big smile these days and he’s pleased with what he’s shown in the passing game. And while there are some who say his status for making the team this fall will hinge on his winning the punt-return job, he said he’s not thinking about that.

“Once you start worrying about that, you’ve already basically cut yourself,” Sanders said. “You just go out and have fun with it. Everybody’s time comes to an end. You just enjoy it while you have it.

“If I didn’t go with the mentality I know I can win (a job), what is the point of me coming here? It’s a competition. It’s not a competition if I say I’m losing.”

–Two weeks of the Jaguars’ OTAs have come and gone, and still no sign of starting defensive end Chris Clemons. The 11-year veteran is the only healthy player on the 90-man roster that is not participating in the voluntary 10 OTA sessions that the Jaguars are conducting over three weeks.

The Jaguars’ coaching staff can only express mild displeasure because the OTAs are not mandatory. What is mandatory is the veterans’ minicamp June 16-18 and Clemons is expected to be present for that.

Defensive line coach Todd Wash has been through this before with Clemons. He was in a similar coaching position with Seattle several years ago when Clemons was with the Seahawks, but failed to show up for their OTAs during the offseason.

Wash wouldn’t identify what the exact nature of the reason for Clemons absence is, opting to say: “It’s a personal issue, so we’ll keep it between our staff.”

Neither Wash nor coach Gus Bradley seemed confident that Clemons would make an appearance for the final four OTAs next week.

But Wash said it’s something that he and Clemons have dealt with previously and without lingering after-affects.

“Having coached (Clemons) here and in Seattle, he’s never been to an OTA,” Wash said laughing. “So it’s a situation, he’s always come back in shape. I trust (Clemons), and like I said, it’s not like he’s been gone. We’re in constant communication, at least every other day and he’s getting all of our installs, not that he needs that, but he’ll come back in shape. We trust (him).”

–Jaguars defensive end Jared Odrick may be thinking about his next career once his NFL days are over. The free-agent acquisition signed by the Jaguars last March will appear as himself in an episode or two of a new HBO show called “Ballers.” It’s a 30-minute comedy that starts a 10-week run June 21.

The star of the show is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former professional wrestler who plays a former football player and a financial adviser to current and former players. The show is similar to “Entourage,” but this show features NFL players.

“It was really interesting, just because it’s orchestrated very similarly to a practice here,” Odrick said. “It’s repetition. There’s a lot of reps in terms of each scene and take. I kind of had an idea what goes into doing something like that on a small scale because I did the Pro Hollywood Boot Camp and it gives you better insight to things, in terms of production and production value of a set and of a film. So I thought I was semi-prepared, but obviously it’s a whole different medium in terms of entertainment and it was something very interesting and I learned a lot.”

Several other professional athletes will also be making cameo appearances in the HBO series, including New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz and New Orleans linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Odrick’s appearance in the show was in Miami earlier this year before he signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Jaguars.

Odrick said he wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with Johnson.

“When someone’s the main actor, the lead actor, everything’s set up, the timing, for him to get in, do his things and get out,” Odrick said. “It was really cool to see how professional and concise you have to be and how much he exemplified that. I think he just came from an event, was speaking with (President) Obama, flew in on his jet, came into hair and makeup, did that up, put a suit on, went over the layout of the scene, did the scene 20 times, gone.”

–There was a re-acquaintance of player and assistant coaches this week when the Jaguars claimed former Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel off waivers on Monday.

Two of the Jaguars’ newest assistant coaches are familiar with the ex-Bills quarterback. Offensive line coach Doug Marrone was head coach in Buffalo and quarterback coach Nathaniel Hackett was the Bills’ offensive coordinator during Tuel’s two-year stint with the Bills.

The 24-year-old former Washington State quarterback was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He started one game as a rookie and played in a couple contests, but spent most of 2014 on the Bills’ practice squad.

To make room for Tuel, the Jaguars cut undrafted rookie quarterback Jake Waters. Tuel will battle Stephen Morris for the No. 3 spot behind starter Blake Bortles and backup Chad Henne.

“It was an opportunity to get a guy in here who’d had some experience,” Bradley said. “He started four games, played two years in the league. Smart, picks things up pretty quick, good poise, and I just felt like to have that guy that comes in with a little more experience.”


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