JACKSONVILLE – Here’s the second part of our newest feature on jaguars.com.
On Wednesday morning, astute readers may recall, we offered five topics to watch as the Jaguars prepared for their first full practice and open-locker room/media access period of the week in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Wednesday is the first day of media access on a normal NFL game week, and therefore a critical time for players and coaches to address key issues.
Each Wednesday afternoon, we’ll address the five issues raised Wednesday morning based on what we learned talking to players, Head Coach Gus Bradley and observing the early portion of practice.
Here we go, then, with what see saw – and heard – Wednesday regarding the five areas to watch around the Jaguars as they prepare for Kansas City:
1. Will Blaine Gabbert play? This, we still don’t know. Gabbert, named the Jaguars’ starting quarterback midway through preseason, said Wednesday the thumb he injured in Week 2 of the preseason is still day-to-day. He practiced Wednesday on a limited basis, took snaps and threw. Bradley said afterward Gabbert will be evaluated Wednesday evening to determine how much work he gets Thursday. Bradley said the Jaguars could take the rest of the week to make a decision, and it’s possible a decision won’t come until game day. “We’re not going to put the team in jeopardy just to say he’s starting,” Bradley said.
2. How healthy are the Jaguars? The Jaguars exited this past weekend appearing remarkably healthy for the first game of the regular season, and they appeared even more so Wednesday. Seven players were limited in practice – guard Will Rackley (ankle), defensive end Jeremy Mincey (skin condition), tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), defensive tackle Roy Miller (knee), running back Justin Forsett (toe), Gabbert and wide receiver Stephen Burton (illness) – but Gabbert and Lewis appear to be the main concerns. Forsett said he wasn’t quite 100 percent, but that he expected to be ready Sunday, and indications are Rackley, Miller and Mincey will be ready.
3. Is MoJo ready? He says, “Yes.” Running back Maurice Jones-Drew spent the offseason rehabilitating a foot injury that cost him the last 10 games of last season, and the foot and his conditioning were concerns throughout preseason and training camp. He was asked Wednesday how many carries he could handle. “As many as it takes,” he said, adding, “I feel great.” Jones-Drew said he doesn’t have any idea how many carries he will get on Sunday, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch wasn’t providing hints, either, but Jones-Drew’s history is that he is capable of getting his body ready and playing at a high level in the regular-season opener despite difficult offseason circumstances. Jones-Drew while speaking to the media also said of rehabilitation, “The main part is just staying positive. There were a couple days during camp where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ Once the pain subsides and the soreness goes away you’re ready to roll again and you fought through those first couple weeks. You were all saying I felt great and I had to lie to myself too and say that as well. Now I feel good and I’m just ready to get out there and play.”
4. Ready for the matchup? One of the most important matchups for the Jaguars Sunday will be offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Eugene Monroe versus Chiefs linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, respectively. The Jaguars drafted Joeckel to help shore up pass protection, and he and Monroe could give the team its best tackle tandem in more than a decade. Hali had nine sacks last season and Houston had a team-high 10. “They’ve got a great challenge ahead of them,” Bradley said. “I know in talking to them they watched some tape already and quite a bit of tape on them. If they stick to their technique and they stick to their teachings they should be in good shape.”
5. Who’s returning? Who will return punts for the Jaguars? Ace Sanders, apparently. This has been an uncertain area throughout preseason. Sanders is the team’s best player for the role, but because he will start at receiver in place of suspended Justin Blackmon, he has returned punts sparingly in preseason and it has been a question if he will do it during the regular-season opener. Sanders, a rookie fourth-round selection, said Wednesday during open locker room he believes he is returning punts against Kansas City.