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Competing and staying

Posted Oct 25, 2012

Jaguars rookie safety Antwon Blake continues to be a force on special teams

He has had success, and in the last six months, he has done what he set out to do.

Still, Antwon Blake wouldn’t say he is comfortable.

Blake, the Jaguars’ rookie safety, said that’s not his nature, and he said he knows from experience – and from his coaches – that in the NFL, comfort is no commodity.

“I know this is a performance business, and you have to perform, especially for someone who’s a free-agent rookie,” Blake said Thursday as the Jaguars (1-5) prepared to play the Green Bay Packers (4-3) at Lambeau Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

“It’s like (coach) Mel (Tucker) says, ‘You compete to play and compete to stay,’ and that’s what I go into every aspect of football thinking.”

Blake, a rookie from Texas-El Paso who signed as a free agent shortly after the 2012 NFL Draft, has been one of the surprise success stories on the Jaguars this season,  earning a spot on the roster during training camp and playing a key special teams role since.

Blake said he played special teams in high school, but said “for some reason, it didn’t feel that important.” That changed at UTEP, where it was a priority and where he blocked two punts as a senior even while starting the final two seasons at cornerback.

“Playing special teams is nothing new to me,” he said. “I enjoy playing special teams for the most part. Being on special teams is another play on defense, so I take it seriously,”

Blake has emerged as a quality “gunner” opposite rookie Kevin Elliott in punt coverage, and he also has excelled on kickoff coverage. Blake is one of the fastest players on the Jaguars, and he said while that helps, to be effective there also must be a knack for making plays.

“I think it might be a mixture of both,” Blake said. “If I don’t have the speed, then I won’t get there. I really feel like as long as you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, you’ll be in your spot. If the play is meant for you to make it, you’ll make it.”

Blake has shown that knack consistently. He emerged as a favorite to make the roster in preseason when he recovered two fumbled punt returns in the preseason opener against the Giants, and he played well enough thereafter to solidify a roster sport entering the season.

He has made at least one tackle in four of the team’s six games, and this past Sunday, he recovered an onside kick by the Jaguars against Oakland.

“Even before the draft, they let me know, ‘Even if you are drafted, if you’re not a high draft pick, special teams is the way you have to make it initially,’” Blake said. “I just knew that was going to have to be my way. I knew I was going to have to do it to my fullest capability.

“I knew coming into the NFL nothing was guaranteed, and I knew nothing is ever what you think it is. I was just taking everything one step at a time, one day at a time.”

In other Jaguars news Thursday:

* Quarterback Blaine Gabbert practiced full for a second consecutive day after sustaining a shoulder injury Sunday against Oakland. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Gabbert was effective enough in practice that if you didn’t know he had been injured you probably wouldn’t know there was an issue. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski agreed, saying, “He’s had a good week of work. It’s been a normal week for him.”

* Bratkowski said a major reason for the team’s 1-of-15 performance on third downs Sunday was being in too many third-and-long situations. “I looked down at my call sheet as we were approaching overtime and I had not used one of my calls that I had for 3rd-and-2 through 5,” Bratkowski said. “That right there kind of told me what part of the problem was. We have to do better in that. The players know that. We’re working hard to correct it and fix it.”

* Wide receiver Laurent Robinson practiced limited for a second consecutive day after missing the last two games with a concussion. “It’s a good feeling to be back out there, getting some practice reps in,” he said. “Hopefully, my head continues to get better. We’re on the right track.” Robinson was cleared to practice early this week after being in the concussion program for a third time this season. He said he will begin using a different helmet, one designed to help prevent concussions. “It’s full up,” he said. “It feels real cushiony, real soft. Hopefully, it will take some of the blows away.” Robinson said he primarily is working on getting back into playing shape. His status for Sunday is uncertain, but Mularkey said early his week Robinson had a chance to play.

* Also Thursday, cornerback Derek Cox (back) practiced limited a second consecutive day, with fullback Greg Jones (hip) and cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) working limited after missing practice Wednesday. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot), safety Dwight Lowery (ankle), linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and fullback Montell Owens (shoulder) missed practice for a second consecutive day, while center Brad Meester worked full after not practicing Wednesday for non-injury reasons.

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