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First off the Field: Gratz moves into third-corner role


JACKSONVILLE – Dwayne Gratz isn't starting at corner, exactly.

But while he isn't listed first on the Jaguars' unofficial depth chart, the third-year veteran has moved into a higher-profile role as the third corner in passing situations.

That's basically a starting position in today's NFL.

And it's absolutely a significant moment for Gratz, who started as a rookie in 2013 before spending much of last season as a backup.

"Anytime you go from being a starter to a backup, and then you're allowed to go play a starting role, it's a big deal," Gratz said Thursday as the Jaguars prepared to play the defending NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers in the 2015 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

Second-year veteran Aaron Colvin and unrestricted free agent-signee Davon House will start at outside corner with Colvin moving inside to play nickel corner in passing situations. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Thursday Gratz will be the first corner in to play outside in nickel situations.

"We were talking about this as a staff: we really like where he (Gratz) is right now – not only the physical part of the game but the mental part of it," Bradley said. "I think he's in a really, really good place right now. He had probably one of the best one-on-one reps I've seen all training camp and into this week of practice (in Wednesday's practice).

"He's just playing at a really confident, high level right now. My hope is he continues that and transfers it over, but he has been very consistent."

Third-year veteran Demetrius McCray, who took over for Gratz as a starter early last season, had entered training camp as the starter at outside corner before Colvin moved into that role.

Also Thursday, the Jaguars released their second injury report of the week, with wide receiver Bryan Walters practicing full after missing Monday and Wednesday with a hamstring issue and running back Toby Gerhart (abdomen) working limited for a second consecutive day.

"He came back and did pretty good," Bradley said of Walters.

Wide receiver Marqise Lee missed practice with a hamstring injury, and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds practiced limited for a second consecutive day. Those two practices have been the first for Reynolds since sustaining his knee injury August 22 against the New York Giants.

"The challenge with LaRoy is not his ability to play special teams; I think it's the linebacker spot," Bradley said of Reynolds, primarily a backup Otto linebacker who can play all three linebacker spots. "He hasn't played much defense for a couple of weeks now, so to get him up to speed as a linebacker – I think that's the challenge. That will be a discussion with us as a staff."

Bradley said Lee, out since early in training camp, has not yet been ruled out for Sunday.

"I know he made good progress today; we'll see what that means," Bradley said of Lee.

Defensive tackle Michael Bennett worked full after being limited Wednesday with an ankle injury, and safety Johnathan Cyprien (finger) worked full a second consecutive day. Tight end Julius Thomas (hand), defensive end Andre Branch (knee) and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee) all missed practice and are expected to miss multiple games at the start of the season.

Also Thursday:

*Bradley said he was pleased with Thursday's two-hour practice, saying an emphasis this week has been on preparation. "We felt like we stacked up another good day of preparation," Bradley said. …

*Bradley also said the focused on third down and ball protection in practice Thursday. Bradley said Carolina's defense is impressive in its ability to force turnovers, having forced 24 last season. Cornerback Charles Tillman, who signed with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, has 42 career forced fumbles. …

*Bradley said rookie safety James Sample had a good practice Thursday on scout team while also getting some first-team repetitions. Sample missed the first three preseason games recovering from a broken arm and is behind Sergio Brown at free safety. …

Check out images as the Jaguars hit the practice field for the final time before Sunday's season opener.

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