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Blackmon returns to practice after four-game suspension

The Canadian Press

10/2/2013 6:59:13 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Justin Blackmon made a one-handed a catch in the end zone Wednesday, a positive sign for the league's worst offence.

Blackmon returned to practice for the first time since late August. He dropped one pass, but also wowed teammates and coaches with a touchdown grab.

"He looked great," quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "He's in the best shape I've seen him in. He's really worked hard with our strength staff and the trainers to get his body where he wants it to be so he can come in and play right away."

Blackmon, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, was allowed to be in meetings during his suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but wasn't allowed to practice.

He actually returned to the field Tuesday and caught passes from Gabbert for an hour.

"It was very frustrating just sitting there watching the team play," Blackmon said. "I'm probably more excited than anybody. I'm just ready to get it going."

The Jaguars (0-4) certainly could use some help.

They rank last in the league in total offence, averaging 224 yards a game, and have scored a league-low 31 points. Opponents have stacked the line of scrimmage to take away running back Maurice Jones-Drew and have rolled coverage over top of leading receiver Cecil Shorts III. Shorts has been targeted a league-high 51 times, but has just 26 catches for 337 yards.

Blackmon caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

The Jaguars traded up to select Blackmon last year, but the former Oklahoma State star was arrested three months later and is now one failed test from missing an entire season. Bradley has been impressed with how Blackmon has handled himself since the suspension.

"He's been awesome," said Bradley, adding that the receiver has done everything asked of him in the weight room and in the community. "All of the things that happened for Justin, he's heading in the right direction, so we are optimistic."

Jacksonville might have to rely on Blackmon to play considerable snaps Sunday at St. Louis (1-3).

Shorts tweaked his groin during walkthrough Wednesday morning and did not practice in the afternoon as a precaution. The Jaguars also were without fellow receivers Mike Brown (back) and Stephen Burton (concussion). So Blackmon was one of just two healthy receivers -- rookie Ace Sanders was the other -- at practice Wednesday. Making matters worse, the team doesn't expect to have tight end Marcedes Lewis available against the Rams.

So Blackmon has little choice but to get ready.

"He's a great player and he just adds another dimension to this offence," Gabbert said. "He had a great year last year and he's looking to build off that coming into this week."