JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' pass rush took a significant hit Saturday.
Andre Branch, who started the first three preseason games at the team's Leo pass-rushing position, will miss significant time with a knee injury, Head Coach Gus Bradley said Saturday.
Branch, a fourth-year veteran, sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament injury in the first quarter of the team's loss to the Detroit Lions in the third game of the 2015 preseason Friday. Bradley said an exact timetable on Branch's return isn't yet known.
But Bradley said Branch is certain to miss at least the regular-season opener against Carolina at EverBank Field on September 13.
"That's a tough one on us," Bradley said early Saturday afternoon, a day after the team's 22-17 loss to Detroit.
Bradley said coaches on Saturday discussed ways to make up for Branch's absence. Second-year veteran Chris Smith likely will play the Leo position on first and second downs in the team's base packages, an area Bradley already has cited as needing to improve its effectiveness in the pass rush.
Smith had three sacks as a rookie last season.
Branch, a second-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft from Clemson, has 10 career sacks. That includes three last season when he missed seven games with a groin injury. He had six sacks in 2013.
"Guys will step up," Bradley said. "But it's always tough when you lose a guy like that (Branch). He was playing well in training camp. He had seven or eight plays (Friday) and had a couple of tackles in those first plays. He started off playing pretty well.
"It's always tough, but we've said, 'You can never have enough rushers.' Guys will have to step up."
Bradley said veteran end Chris Clemons, the team's starting Leo last season, likely will play a third-down role with some first- and second-down repetitions. He said Ryan Davis also could play a third-down rusher role with first- and second-down repetitions. Clemons had eight sacks last season and Davis had 6.5.
Bradley said coaches also discussed using Otto linebacker Dan Skuta as a Leo at times. Skuta signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason from San Francisco, where he registered a career-high five sacks last season.
"That's still up in the air," Bradley said, adding that the team hadn't yet discussed pursuing a pass rusher outside the team. "I think we're just laying out all of the possibilities."
Bradley on Saturday also said he expects right guard Brandon Linder to play in the regular-season opener.
Linder, a second-year veteran and perhaps the team's best offensive lineman, left the Lions game in the first quarter a sprained second toe on his left foot. He was doing well Saturday, according to the team. Bradley said Friday night Linder likely could have returned to the game had it been a regular-season game.
Also around the Jaguars:
*Bradley on Saturday said tight end Julius Thomas and safety Johnathan Cyprien are progressing and may undergo MRIs this week to gauge their availability for the regular-season opener. Thomas sustained a hand injury in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh and Cyprien sustained a finger injury in that game. …
*Wide receiver Allen Robinson is expected to be day-to-day this week after sustaining a shoulder contusion against the Lions. Robinson returned to the game after the injury. …
*Wide receiver Allen Hurns also is expected to be day-to-day this week. He left Friday's game for precautionary reasons because of hip tightness. …
*Tight end Clay Harbor sustained what the team termed a "minor-ankle sprain" and the team said he was feeling better Saturday morning.