A decision will be made this week on whether or not rookie offensive tackle Khalif Barnes will get his first start as a pro. Either way, coach Jack Del Rio said Barnes' playing time will increase.
"That's something we're going to consider as a staff," Del Rio said when asked if Barnes will be put into the starting lineup at left tackle for this Sunday night's nationally-televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals. "He's going to play, if not start," Del Rio added of Barnes.
Questions about the Jaguars' troubled offensive line dominated Monday's press conference, following a 20-7 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday that produced just 12 rushing yards and saw quarterback Byron Leftwich sacked twice and pressured continually. One sack caused a forced fumble the Broncos recovered.
• Did Leftwich receive enough time to be effective passing on Sunday?
"Not in all cases, no," Del Rio said. "If the protection is better, we get a longer look at things coming open downfield. And you can add the coaching strategy aspect; three-step, five-step, seven-step drops. We're trying to find the right combination to be potent on offense."
• Is Leftwich holding the ball too long?
"He's not holding the ball too long. The ball came out on time. I thought late in the game he tried to force a couple of passes in there and they got us into trouble," Del Rio said.
Left tackle is the position of greatest scrutiny. Left guard Vinny Manuwai will stay in the starting lineup, "but we will push Vinny to be at his best. I know he's got better ability than he's shown in the first quarter of this season," the Jaguars head coach added.
"We feel like we have a good group," Del Rio said of his offensive linemen. "We're not as far away as it would appear. We have to (be) better. There are good things going on, just not enough. I think the O-line will play better as the year goes on."
Sunday's loss sent the Jaguars offensive and defensive rankings plummeting. The running game fell to 19th in the league, leaving the offense at 24th overall. The more alarming stat is the Jaguars' 24th-ranking in points scored. The team is currently averaging 15.5 points per game, just under last year's 16.3 ppg, which was 29th in the league.
Maybe even more alarming is the Jaguars' 29th-ranking in run-defense. The Jaguars allowed 188 yards rushing to the Broncos and saw Mike Anderson become the second running back this season to reach the 100-yard mark against the Jaguars.
"We pride ourselves in being able to run the ball and stop the run. We didn't do either one well," Del Rio said.
This is a gloom-and-doom Monday for Jaguars fans with playoff expectations. At 2-2 and staring at consecutive games against 4-0 Cincinnati and at Pittsburgh, pressure is beginning to mount. Del Rio was firm in his remarks.
"We believe in what we're doing. We believe in the approach. We just have to keep working at it," said Del Rio, who was asked what message he would deliver to the team's fans.
"It's early in the season. We have a good, young football team that's working hard. I really believe this could be a special year but we've got work to do and we've got to kick it in soon," he said.
Soon may mean this Sunday.