JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's time for another Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag. Each Saturday morning I'll answer a representative question, hitting a topic that drew the most interest. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco. Please use the hashtag #jagsmail.
What is a realistic expectation for Dede Westbrook when he returns and his affect on the passing game? #jagsmail— Justin Wayne (@JustinAWayne) October 20, 2017
@ESPNdirocco: Some housekeeping first. Dede Westbrook is eligible to come off injured reserve after Week 8, and while the Jaguars have not said anything official that is the expectation and Westbrook could be on the field for the Nov. 5 home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
I like Justin's question because it's been something that I've been trying to figure out. The Jaguars clearly need help in the pass game because they've gotten almost nothing from Keelan Cole (six catches) as the No. 3 receiver, so it's natural to hope that Westbrook can step into that role and do what he did in the preseason (NFL-high 288 yards receiving).
I talked to Westbrook early this week and he said he doesn't think the two months off will have much of an impact on him in terms of conditioning or knowledge of the offense. He's pretty confident, too, saying he would be back to the level of conditioning he needs after several possessions. Clearly, he will be in for a surprise when he does get back on the field because things won't be anything like they were in the preseason. He will be rusty. Veteran NFL players will tell you there's a big difference in knowing what you have to do on the field and actually doing it. Mental reps are great but physical reps matter as much, or more.
Westbrook's speed and big-play ability certainly will help. The Jaguars don't have a down-field threat with the loss of Allen Robinson and Westbrook's ability to stretch the field can help loosen up the defenses that are ganging up to stop the run. That depends, too, on Westbrook's ability to deal with press coverage, which is something that coach Doug Marrone said he struggled with during training camp and the preseason. To help that, Westbrook should spend a fair amount of time lining up in the slot.
That being said, expecting Westbrook to lift the Jaguars passing attack from 29th (169.7 yards per game) into the middle of the pack is unreasonable. The Jaguars will have nine games remaining after the bye so Westbrook catching 20-30 passes would be more realistic. He may break a few catch-and-runs or catch a couple of deep passes but Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns will remain the Jaguars' top two pass-catchers.
Westbrook has a chance to make his biggest impact as a punt returner. Max McCaffrey has taken over the job from Lee, who has been banged up with rib and knee injuries, but has just one return for zero yards and four fair catches. Westbrook didn't do it much at Oklahoma, but he averaged 16.2 yards on five punt returns -- including one for a touchdown -- on five returns last season.