Impressive performances by Jason Craft and Kiwaukee Thomas in the last two games have given rise to an obvious question: Are these the Jaguars' cornerbacks of the future?
Craft and Thomas are a pair of fifth-round draft choices earning just above minimum salary on a team that is facing severe salary-cap constraints. The players they've replaced, Aaron Beasley and Fernando Bryant, who've been out of action with shoulder and foot injuries respectively, are much greater hits on the Jaguars' salary cap.
This Sunday, Craft and Thomas will take on Randy Moss and Cris Carter, one of the most feared pass-catching combinations in professional football history. It will be a measuring-stick game for the young Jaguars cornerbacks.
Thomas was a freshman at Georgia Southern in 1996 when Moss led Marshall to a win at Southern, en route to an undefeated march to the Division I-AA title. "He had a big day," Thomas said. "He had a 78-yard touchdown on us."
Moss and Carter will offer a special challenge to the Jaguars this Sunday when the Jags play against the Vikings at the Minneapolis Metrodome. In 1998, the Jaguars suffered a 50-10 defeat to the Vikings, who were on their way to a 15-1 record.
Beasley is listed as "doubtful" and Bryant as "questionable" on the Jaguars' injury report. Meanwhile, Craft and Thomas are coming off consecutive games in which no Bengals or Browns wide receiver caught a touchdown pass.
"The coaches are putting us in some good coverages. It's helping us be comfortable and play ball. It's a mixture (of man-to-man and zone coverage)," Thomas said.
In Cleveland this past Sunday, Craft made his first career interception. To date this season, Craft is third on the team with nine passes-defensed, the bulk of those coming in his nickel-back role.
"Things happen and you have to step up. It helps me out a lot, being able to play more, and it helps my confidence," Craft said.
"We have to make sure we're sound and don't get caught out of coverage. If you're not sound in your coverage, they will exploit you," Craft added of Moss and Carter.
Thomas has four passes-defensed and three sacks as a blitzer.
"Last year was more (about) technique. That's what I had to learn," Thomas said of his rookie season. "The game slowed down tremendously for me since last year. Now it's just about playing ball."
On the Metrodome artificial surface, and against the Vikings' sometimes-high-flying passing attack, Sunday's game is likely to be played at a faster pace. It may offer a peek into the Jaguars' future.