JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- DJ Chark’s early-season success is all about comfort.
In his daily schedule, his relationship with the coaches, the way he studies film, how he performs in drills. What kind of cleats he wears. When he’s leaving the facility. What he does each night.
All of it. Chark said he struggled to find his way through all of that as a rookie last season and that was a big reason why he didn’t have much success as a receiver. Knowing what to expect in 2019 -- even though he had to learn a new playbook -- has calmed his mind and made it easier for him to make the kind of impact the Jaguars sought when they drafted him in the second round.
“You’re expected to play like you’ve been here, but you’re not really sure what’s going on,” Chark said. “I probably didn’t really understand until like late camp going into the season and then you’re trying to catch up. But now being here a year, I know what to expect when I wake up in the morning. I know pretty much during the installs that we’re all learning this together so we’re all on the same page. You just feel way more comfortable going to practice. Just what to do, what not to do, things like that.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I’m just way more comfortable, so now I feel like I’m able to focus more on football instead of the things that involve football, like learning the culture and things like that. It’s already installed. I’m just playing football now.”
And playing it pretty well. Chark leads the Jaguars in catches (15) and receiving yards (277), and is tied for second in the NFL with three touchdown catches. He’s also averaging 18.5 yards per catch, which would be a single-season franchise record if he maintains it for the rest of the season.
He has become quarterback Gardner Minshew’s favorite target, especially when it comes to 50-50 balls. Minshew says he has complete trust in Chark to win those and he won’t hesitate to throw it up for him.
“He has great body control. He knows where to put his body in relation to the ball to keep himself between the ball and the defender,” Minshew said. “On both of those deep ones last game, [he] did an awesome job of that, and we’re just growing in confidence now.”
Chark’s confidence wasn’t exactly sky high as a rookie. He said that’s mainly because he just didn’t know how, where and when he fit into the offense, which took him a while to learn. That was compounded by the fact that he had to learn every receiver position and his main job on offense was to be ready to spell Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook when they got tired.
That made learning the game plan a little harder. It was also why he made more of an impact on special teams as a gunner, and he tied for the team lead with five special-teams tackles.
“There were some times I had a designed play and I felt very confident,” Chark said. “Like, all right, I know these three plays this week are mine. This is what I need to do. I’ve been practicing. So I’d execute easily. But it’s just when you wasn’t sure of what’s going on and, like I said, you’re adjusting to everything, things like that, was kind of tough. That’s kind of why I felt like I did very, very well on special teams because I knew this was my spot on special teams. When I go out there, this is what I’m supposed to do, this is what I’m going to do, like visualizing.
“Going through the process now, knowing the plays, knowing where I’m most likely going to be at, knowing this is how it should look, and it just feels way more comfortable being out there now.”
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo spent a lot of time watching film after he was hired in January, and he wasn’t especially thrilled with what he saw from any of the receivers. His opinion changed for the better after the offseason program, OTAs and minicamp, and there was a belief inside the building that Chark was headed for a breakout season.
“The potential was always there,” DeFilippo said. “You see it a lot with rookies; you do. It’s got to be a unique situation for a rookie to come in and dominate his first year -- it really does. Some guys take longer than others. DJ was a little bit raw in some of his skills, in terms of the route running. I think you’ve seen DJ’s confidence grow a tremendous amount, from what I’ve heard, from his rookie year until now. That equates to him playing faster.
“We anticipate keeping him going at a high level. I don’t see him slowing down at any point.”