'Just keep pushing': DJ Chark Jr. aims to get healthy and productive for Jaguars and next contract

Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. is in the final year of his contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars and is off to a bumpy start in 2021, having caught just 4 of 16 passes. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It hasn’t exactly been a hot start for Jacksonville Jaguars receiver DJ Chark Jr.

Chark, who needs to have a good season if he’s going to earn a contract extension with the team that drafted him, has had just four catches in the first two games in Year 4 despite being targeted 16 times.

He’s also still playing catchup in developing chemistry with rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence after missing nearly a month leading up to the opener because of a broken finger.

But he’s confident things are going to change pretty soon.

“There’s times you get frustrated, but then you just go back to the drawing board and fix it, and you know, keep it moving,” Chark said. “I think that's the biggest part that we got right now is just continue to push, continue to persevere. I feel like it's a challenge, and it's something that we embrace.

“I think every week that goes by, we know we are getting better, so I feel pretty confident in that.”

Lawrence targeted Chark 12 times in the season opener against Houston, but Chark had just three catches, though one was a 41-yard touchdown. Chark followed that up by catching just one pass for 19 yards on four targets in Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos. All four of his catches did go for first downs, though.

However, a 25% catch rate certainly isn’t good, but Chark isn’t the only receiver who is having trouble hooking up with Lawrence. Marvin Jones, Jr. has 11 catches on a team-high 20 targets and Laviska Shenault Jr. has nine catches on 17 targets.

Lawrence has completed only 50% of his passes, and he’s thrown five interceptions, so the entire pass offense hasn’t exactly flourished.

“I think there’s frustration on all of our parts across the board,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We have a standard that we’re trying to live up to, and we’re definitely a work in progress, and we’re trying to get better all across the board. I wouldn’t just single out DJ; I think it’s all of us.”

Chark, who is in the final years of his rookie contract, said the plate they placed in his hand from surgery still remains, and the finger that held him out of preseason does still bother him at times. However, he said that’s not a reason for his two drops in the opener.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100%, but I'm definitely improving every day,” Chark said. “Getting better every day.

“It's just part of the game, the price that you know you have to pay to come out here and be a professional receiver. You have some nicks and bruises. You just keep pushing.”

Chark said if the offense is going to finally get into a rhythm – and the Jaguars are finally going to get a victory – Lawrence and the receivers have to have a better connection.

“It’s just stuff that we have to fix and work on, and just focus on ... keeping drives alive,” he said.

Considering Chark needed to have a bounce-back season in 2021, his future with the franchise depends on it too.

Chark caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 despite the quarterback rollercoaster with Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew II, who was a sixth-round pick in his rookie year. He made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and caught two passes for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in that game.

Last season, however, was a huge disappointment. Chark missed three games because of injury and dealt with a sore shoulder and back the first part of the season. He caught 53 passes for 706 yards and five touchdowns and at times was visibly frustrated with the inconsistent quarterback play from Minshew, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon.

He admitted that frustration bled into the way he carried himself and his body language on the field, and he didn’t exactly hide it. That’s why first-year coach Urban Meyer told him in the spring he needed to be tougher and stronger and play like the big, physical receiver he’s supposed to be.

The slow start hasn’t helped.

“You’ve got to make plays. You’ve got to be consistent,” Chark said. “You got to enjoy what we do and do it to a high level.”