When Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback Nick Foles uncorked a deep shot to second-year receiver DJ Chark in the first quarter of Sunday's 40-26 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, nearly every Jaguars fan held their collective breaths.
After all, Chark had a rookie season defined by drops and fumbles. After being selected in the second-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Chark had worried fans much more than he dazzled them. But on Sunday, it was different.
Chark made an adjustment against physical coverage, tracked the ball and then secured it against contact. It was the best play of his career and it was as if you could see a weight physically being lifted off of his shoulders.
"It was a great catch," Foles said immediately when a media member told him it was a great throw after the game. "I thought DJ did a nice job on the catch and made me look good."
Against the Chiefs, Chark led the Jaguars in receiving yards with 146 yards after catching all four passes thrown to him. It was the first time in his career he amassed more than 68 yards in a game, and the total nearly matched the 174 yards he racked up in 2018. It was the type of game the Jaguars had been hoping to see out of Chark, and the type of game he needed to see out of himself.
"I knew after the (2018) season, it is time for me to, you know, mature, grow up and take a step in this offense. And that is something that has been on my mind since January," Chark said following Sunday's loss. "I wouldn't say a burden, but it is something that I have been waiting to get out there and compete."
Chark pointed to improved study and practice habits as a big reason for his career performance on Sunday. Head coach Doug Marrone said Chark has always been a hard worker, but it sometimes takes receivers time to adjust to life in the NFL. This was the case with Santana Moss was a young player while Marrone was the New York Jets coach in the early 2000s, Marrone said.
"I think DJ came in, worked extremely hard, he did well special-teams wise, and then probably started off and probably wanted to play better than he actually did," Marrone said Monday.
"And I think he has a ton of potential, a ton of skill. He’s a big kid, he’s a tough kid, and he can run, and I think that we were hoping that he would really step up when the lights came on and he did a good job and he showed everyone what he has the capability of doing."
Chark's teammates have noticed the hard work that he has put in to overcome a rocky rookie season. Chris Conley wasn't on the 2018 Jaguars team so he didn't witness Chark's ups and downs, but he has witnessed everything he has done on the practice field in 2019, and now on the game field.
"I have seen D.J. Chark come in every day to work and listen to guys, coaches and just want to get better, even when he has good days," Conley said. "He's had good days in practice and he's come in the next day and is really hungry to learn. Whenever you have that kind of athletic ability and you are able to listen to critiques and get better, the sky is the limit."
Marrone said now that Chark has shown he can translate his strong performances in practice to Sunday's, it will now be expected out of him more consistently. And Chark realizes this too, and he seems eager to continue to take the steps in his development that the Jaguars desperately need for him to take.
"I feel like it is just the beginning. I still have a lot of stuff that I feel like I have to watch this film on, and work on and get better," he said.
"But its good that you can show what's been shown on these practice fields day in and day out, the work that we put in. So, it's good to show it on Sunday's, but next time we want to show it with a win."