Mark Brunell was to practice today, easing concerns that he might not play this Sunday when the Jaguars host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I imagine he'll take about half the reps," coach Tom Coughlin said of Brunell, who suffered a strained left calf muscle in Monday night's 43-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Brunell did not practice yesterday, as backup quarterback Jamie Martin ran the first-string offense.
At 2-2, the Jaguars need a win against the 0-3 Steelers to stay close to AFC Central Division leaders Baltimore, 3-1, and Tennessee, 2-1. Baltimore travels to 2-2 Cleveland, while Tennessee hosts the New York Giants.
When Coughlin was asked if the winless Steelers are a desperate team, he said: "No more desperate than we are."
Actually, the Jaguars' desperation is greater than the Steelers', who are clearly in a rebuilding phase and have no realistic playoff hopes. In contrast, the Jaguars desperately need a win to keep alive their playoff hopes in a season that is considered to be their last gasp at making it to the Super Bowl.
Deepening the Jaguars' desperation is a schedule that will see the Jaguars host the Ravens next week, travel to Tennessee for a Monday night game, then come home to face the Redskins. It is one of the most difficult stretches of schedule in the team's history.
Though the Steelers are winless, the Jaguars don't dare look past a team that forced the Titans to rally for a win in the final minutes this past Sunday. The Steelers actually dominated the action for much of the game.
"They've improved every week. They're back to where they're rushing the ball very well. They're playing physical defense," Coughlin said.
One of the Jaguars' big concerns has to be at center, where John Wade has been lost for the season. Coughlin will decide whether to start short-snapper Quentin Neujahr or recently-acquired Jeff Smith at center, an especially important position considering the strength of the Steelers defense are inside linebackers LeVon Kirkland and Earl Holmes.
"They have a lot of talent. We need to put pressure on the quarterback," said Coughlin, who remains dissatisfied by his defense's lack of a pass-rush. Through four games, the Jaguars have nine sacks, while having allowed 17.
Pittsburgh is vulnerable to the pass-rush, and will be without starting right tackle Marvel Smith, a rookie second-round pick. Starting quarterback Kent Graham is a big and stationary target.
Coughlin said yesterday's practice was "quiet, good focus; let's hope it stays that way. I'm looking for a team that'll bounce back."
The coach was quick and to the point in his address to the media today. When asked if he expects leaders to emerge among his players, Coughlin said: "I've expected those leaders to step up since I've been here. One of the greatest things that can happen to a team is peer pressure. I don't know that we have that."