ENOUGH TO PREPARE
To Rashad Jennings, a limited amount of time is enough.
Jennings – who has started the first three preseason games at running back in the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew – and the rest of the starting lineup are expected to play about 10-to-12 plays in the preseason finale Thursday, Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said this week.
Jennings said that’s enough time to stay ready for the regular-season opener September 9 against Minnesota.
“It will give you a feel, and let us go over the playbook – a couple of plays we’ve been running over,” Jennings said Tuesday. “It’s an opportunity for us to go out and be sharp. You want to be as sharp as you can, because you’re not going to be able to get that taste out of your mouth for a week and a half.
“When the coaches feel we’ve had enough, we’ll root for other guys.”
Jennings in three preseason games has rushed for 175 yards on 36 carries, a 4.9-yards-per-carry average. With Jones-Drew, the NFL’s leading rusher a year ago, holding out, Mularkey said Monday he expects Jennings to start against Minnesota.
“Where I’m at right now (physically) is a good spot,” Jennings said. “Each year coming in, you try to find a perfect position to be at this point. In my rookie year, I felt I overdid it and peaked early. My second year, I was a little better. This year, personally, I feel good and this team is looking good, too.”
A NORMAL PACE
Cornerback Rashean Mathis said while his knee isn’t quite 100 percent, he remains confident he can play at a high level, and that 100 percent will come soon.
Mathis, who spent the off-season rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is expected to start the season at nickel corner, Mularkey said Monday.
Aaron Ross is expected to start at one corner with Derek Cox or Will Middleton at the other. Cox will be the starter on that side if he returns from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since early in the preseason opener.
“I feel it getting stronger,” Mathis said. “Where I’m at now and where I was two weeks ago, there’s a big difference. It’s just the strength. Muscle endurance is the main thing. You might be good 10 plays, but can you play 30, 40 or 50 plays? Endurance is the concern and that’s what the process is now.
“I’ve been ahead of the curve. I’m trying to stay that way. I feel very good – not just OK, I feel very good.”
“You define yourself. If we let the critics and media outside this locker room define us, nine times out of 10 you’re probably not going to like it. If you do like it, somebody’s going to knock you off your pedestal. We feel we have a good thing. We’ve built the foundation. Now, it’s about doing the things to finish the product. We definitely are going to define ourselves. That’s going to be our motto.”
The Jaguars will have a walkthrough practice Wednesday and also will participate in the annual Kickoff Luncheon. They will then play host to the Falcons in the preseason finale Thursday night at EverBank Field.
Thursday could be the first day of the rest of Cameron Bradfield’s career. Bradfield moved into the starting lineup at right tackle early in training camp, and while he started there in the preseason opener, Thursday’s game will be his first back at the spot where he is expected to start the regular season. Because left tackle Eugene Monroe was in the concussion program the last two weeks, Bradfield started the last two preseason games on the left side, where the second-year veteran started once as a rookie last season. “It feels good to get a good week of practice (on the right side),” Bradfield said. “Getting quality reps against other teams’ first string guys was good. First, I played right tackle, then I played left tackle, but getting those quality reps was important.” If all goes as expected, Bradfield could be getting starting reps on the right side for a long, long time.
*Linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and Monroe (concussion program), each of whom returned to practice this week after missing multiple games, practiced Tuesday and remain expected to play Thursday. “I’ll be ready,” Monroe said of the regular-season opener. “Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve missed time. I know how to be ready and be prepared. I’ve been in it mentally. Even though I was down, I didn’t separate myself from what was going on. I’m always ready.”
*Wide receiver Mike Thomas has returned five kickoffs for a 26.2-yard average this preseason, and with Jennings running with the starting offense, Thomas may get an opportunity to return kicks in the regular season. If so, he said he’s ready. Thomas, who also has returned a punt for two yards, has had a 55-yard kickoff return and a 36-yarder this preseason. “I’m all about having the ball in my hands,” Thomas said. “If I need to get a couple of extra touches on punt or kickoff returns, I don’t mind that at all.” Thomas said he likes the approach of special teams coach John Bonamego. “He’s been doing it for a long time,” Thomas said. “He knows what he’s doing. You see both of our starting safeties on punt returns, so I know they like to use starters and tier-one guys on special teams.”
*Offensive guard Will Rackley missed practice Tuesday after practicing over the weekend. Mularkey had said Monday that Rackley, out since before the preseason opener with a high-ankle sprain, had experienced some swelling and could miss the preseason finale.
*Tight end Zach Miller (calf) and cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring) continued to work on the side during practice Thursday, with cornerback Leigh Torrence and end Odrick Ray remaining in the concussion program. Defensive ends Austen Lane (foot) and George Selvie (knee) also remain out.