The rookies, both from Texas, will return to their home state this weekend when Jacksonville travels to Houston to play the Texans. Dillard and Thomas won't be spectators, either.
The Jaguars placed starter Troy Williamson (shoulder) on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday, two days after they released fellow wideout Nate Hughes. The moves cleared the way for Dillard and Thomas to take on expanded roles this season, beginning against the Texans.
"I have a good rapport with them," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said. "My thing right now is to keep them confident and help them mature as receivers so they can go out and be at their best on game day."
Dillard and Thomas are looking forward to the experience, one they admit could be overwhelming.
Dillard, a fifth-round draft pick who's from San Antonio, purchased 27 tickets for Sunday's game. Thomas, a fourth-rounder who's from DeSoto, bought 32.
The Jaguars had hoped to bring Dillard and Thomas along slowly this season and have them learn the ropes while sitting behind seven-time Pro Bowler Torry Holt, Mike Sims-Walker, Williamson and Hughes. But Williamson tore his right labrum during Sunday's 31-17 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and Hughes dropped what might have been a critical touchdown pass late in the game. The team released Hughes on Monday and re-signed him to the practice squad Wednesday.
Dillard and Thomas could benefit most from the situation.
"It'll be a big week of practice for those guys," Holt said. "Those guys, they're up for it. We have no other choice. We've got to go with what we've got, and we have a lot of confidence in those guys."
The Jaguars can only hope that Dillard and Thomas play somewhat close to the way they did in college.
Dillard led the nation with 20 TD catches last year at Rice and broke the NCAA record with 60 career TD receptions. Jacksonville selected him with the 144th overall pick, hoping his knack for making plays would carry over to the next level.
Although Dillard struggled to catch the ball early in training camp, he settled down late and earned a roster spot as a slot receiver. Nonetheless, he was inactive the first two weeks.
That will change Sunday.
"I know he's excited about the opportunity and we do anticipate if the week goes well that we'll get him up and have a chance to let him go back and play in front of some of his fans there in the Houston area because he played there at Rice," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "He had a heck of a career as a college player."
Dillard has no idea what to expect when he gets his first real action in front of family and friends -- no surprise since he even had trouble explaining the difference between college and the pros.
"I'm still numb to the whole experience," Dillard said. "I haven't really had time to sit back and soak in the whole experience. It's still a blur."
Thomas finished his college career at Arizona with 259 catches for 3,231 yards and 23 scores. His receptions were a Pac-10 record. Jacksonville selected him with the 107th overall pick, but he missed most of the preseason because of a hamstring injury.
Thomas' extended absence had him worried he might not make the roster, but the Jaguars kept him mostly based on potential. Like Dillard, Thomas was inactive the first two games, but he believes he's ready to help out.
"I'm most definitely prepared and ready," Thomas said. "I'm just going to go out there and play ball. Whatever opportunities I do get, I'm just going to try to take advantage of them."
Hughes, meanwhile, is trying to take advantage of a second chance. He rejoined the team Wednesday as a member of the practice squad, and if he stays there all season, would lose more than $200,000. But he hopes to earn another shot at the 53-man roster.
"I just felt like I let my team down, let my coaches down," Hughes said. "I feel like I let the whole Jacksonville area down. I'm here to ... work my way back, and when I get on that active roster, I'm going to make plays that the coaches and players know I'm capable of."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press