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Browns-Jaguars Into Focus: Blake Bortles, Cecil Shorts III and strength in the middle


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics as Browns-Jaguars nears, including Blake Bortles, Cecil Shorts III and the strength in the middle of the Jaguars' defense …

1.Really, really good.We begin this Jaguars-Browns Into Focus with a topic that is becoming more obvious – that teammates believe more strongly in Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars produced 379 yards and 27 first downs Sunday in a loss at Tennessee, with Bortles throwing for 336 yards and twice driving the Jaguars the length of the field in the fourth quarter. That had players talking with increased optimism about the player expected to lead the offense into the future. "Five (Bortles) is damned good," wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "He can extend the play. He can run. Some of the throws he threw Sunday, you were like, 'Wow …' He put some passes on the money. He's a tough guy. We're going to get this rolling." Shorts, asked one thing about Bortles he didn't realize three weeks ago, replied quickly, "His calmness. I didn't realize how calm he was as a person. The way he is to you guys in interviews is the same way he is in the huddle. He might crack a few jokes … he's just level."

2.Just win, baby.The Jaguars' interior defense has been as strong as any area of the team this season.  One reason has been the continued consistency of tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, who was maybe the team's best defensive player last season. But as big a reason has been veteran Roy Miller, who played through a shoulder issue much of last season. Miller, who signed as a free agent with the Jaguars in the 2013 offseason, has been healthy this season, and line-mates say the results are evident. "Roy collapses the whole side," defensive end Andre Branch said. "If it's a run away from me, he's going to make that running back cut back into my lap. They either have to bounce and lose ground or cut back into me. A lot of plays that I run down from the back are pretty much because of him."

3.The benefits of experience.It's no accident Shorts was the Jaguars' most targeted receiver Sunday. While hamstring issues kept him out of three of the first five games and kept focus more on his health than his production, Shorts is the Jaguars' most experienced receiver and most reliable target. Bortles said it's easy to tell Shorts has a year experience in offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's offense. "He has a great feel for it, really smart, intelligent," Bortles said. Bortles targeted Shorts 16 times against Tennessee and Shorts caught 10 passes for 103 yards. "I do think there's a comfort level there," Fisch said. "Cecil has got a good feel for what we're trying to get done and we put him in certain spots where we feel if maybe he might be a primary read on a certain play or two. In the same token we've got four guys running slants and Blake's got to pick the guy that he wants to throw that slant to. We've got a couple of times that he's the designed go-to guy but we're going to continue to spread it around."

4.Going deep.Shots are being taken when possible. As Fisch sees it, that's the case with the Jaguars' passing game since Bortles came into the lineup. While many observers have wondered why Fisch hasn't called more downfield passes to take advantage of Bortles' escapability and ability to see receivers downfield, Fisch said plays have been designed capable of going downfield. "We're chucking it pretty good in terms of (when) there are opportunities to launch it," Fisch said. "For one reason or another we haven't connected all the time." Fisch on Wednesday cited a deep pass to Shorts that missed against the Titans, and a third-quarter pass that running back Jordan Todman dropped around the Titans 10-yard line. "I'm sure he would tell you that he would have liked to catch that ball—that would have been a 45-yarder there," Fisch said of the Todman play. Fisch said pass protection has hurt ability to throw deep at times, and added that field position prevented it at times, too. "Sometimes you can only go as far as the field allows you to," he said.

5.Just run, baby.While focus remains on Bortles, no area on the Jaguars has been under more scrutiny in recent weeks than the offensive line. The unit has allowed 27 sacks this season, including 10 in Week 2 against Washington and six this past week at Tennessee. But the focus is more on the group's efficiency run-blocking than on the pass protection. While guards Zane Beadles and Brandon Linder have overall positive grades from Pro Football focus – and while each has a positive grade in pass protection – no Jaguars starter on the offensive line has a significant positive run-blocker ratio. Partly as a result of that, the Jaguars rank No.32 in the NFL in rushing. "We're getting better," running back Toby Gerhart said. "We just have to kick the door down and do it. There are always some assignment issues and there could be a read issue. We just have to play with that extra tenacity – get nasty, get mean in the trenches, whatever … We're working towards that identity. It's building. One day, we're going to be that run game, that offensive line, that running-back stable. We're seeing the results progressively, but we need it more immediate." …

Take a look back at images from past matchups between the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars.

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