Commentary | Area products Ace Sanders, Damian Copeland could help revive Jacksonville Jaguars' offense

adell@bradenton.comMay 25, 2014 

Shortly after the NFL Draft shut down two weeks ago, Damian Copeland had offers from 16 teams.

Coming in as an undrafted free agent wasn't the way the Palmetto High product wanted to get into the NFL, especially after a solid season at Louisville.

But Copeland didn't hesitate and chose the Jacksonville Jaguars because he wanted to return to Florida and the city held a special place in his heart for personal family reasons.

Predicted as a fifth- to seventh-round pick, the 6-foot-1, 182-pounder had to swallow his disappointment quickly and move on.

Copeland's situation proved what a lot of pro football say: NFL scouts are the toughest group to satisfy with many holding onto negatives as if they gain value with age.

Copeland's crime is that he battled injuries that affected his playing time in the early part of his college career.

But since changing his diet and training regime, Copeland has been injury-free and did not miss a game the past two years. Last season, he led Louisville with 58 receptions and finished with 780 receiving yards and five TD catches.

After pulling off the shocker of the draft by choosing quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick, the Jaguars selected receivers Marquis Lee of USC and Allen Robinson from Penn State.

Copeland received praise from Jags head coach Gus Bradley for not being intimidated by Lee and Robinson in signing with Jacksonville.

"I feel I'm one of the

best receivers in the country. I'll be fine. I know I'll make it," Copeland told Jacksonville.com.

Copeland has one local supporter on the Jaguars in second-year receiver Ace Sanders, the fourth-round pick in 2012 out of Manatee High and South Carolina.

Sanders, the Jags' jack-of-all-trades, was used in the slot and the outside last year along with returning punts. He says the more receivers the merrier.

"It's a great situation we have going on because we have so many weapons now," Sanders said in a team interview on Jaguars.com. "We can rotate in. We can go all out if someone is coming in -- me or any of the young guys, the rookies coming in, they can all fill the void. It's a great situation."

Sanders says that under second-year offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch all the receivers are basically learning all the positions, which makes everyone more valuable and harder to stop.

"We don't want to be stuck being a one-dimensional team," Sanders said. "Maybe one play we might like this matchup better so we need you to read this route. We need you to know what's going on. The way we set it up is perfect."

It also could be a perfect situation for Copeland, who showed at Louisville that he could be an effective receiver on the outside or in the slot.

It could be Southeast product Jon Dowling ran into a similar image problem, which caused the Western Kentucky safety to drop down to the seventh round in the draft.

He has led a near-pristine life since he left Florida following his freshman year and his documented problems with former Gators head coach Urban Meyer. His time there has unfairly sullied the reputation of the 6-3, 200-pounder.

Willie Taggart, his coach at WKU for two years, has given Dowling glowing reports and talked about his growth in maturity and work ethic.

Dowling said he is looking ahead and so far he has backed up those words in early workouts with the Oakland Raiders, who made him the 247th selection in the draft with their final pick.

SB Nation, one of the more respectable websites that covers the NFL, has projected that Dowling will make the team.

His versatility certainly helps. He can play either safety spot and has the speed to be a cornerback, which could be his ultimate position with more teams going to bigger receiver sets (see Bucs).

With his speed, size and wing-span, Dowling looks like the new prototypical NFL cornerback. He already has the size that Bucs head coach Lovie Smith covets in a cornerback.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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