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First off the Field: Health helping wide receivers


JACKSONVILLE – Practice may or may not make perfect.

But it doesn't hurt, and when it comes to the Jaguars' wide receiver position, being healthy enough to practice has been a positive in recent weeks.

It's also been a notable change, and Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Thursday said it has been a significant development this week.

"It's good for multiple reasons," Bradley said Thursday as the Jaguars (0-6) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (3-2) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.

"One, it gives them reps and they can do things full speed. The other thing is when you're short because of injuries, some of those reps pile up on a couple of guys. You worry sometimes about playing fast on Sundays. We've been able to spread the reps.

"It has kept our guys healthy and allowed them to play faster."

The Jaguars' wide receivers gotten gradually healthier in recent weeks.

That has come after a season and offseason when injuries hit nearly every player at the position, with the injuries ongoing and widespread enough that when all the Jaguars' wide receivers practiced Wednesday it was the first time this season the entire group worked full.

Cecil Shorts III missed two preseason games and three of the first five regular-season games with a hamstring injury. That came after rookie Allen Robinson missed much of the offseason, most of training camp and the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. Rookie Marqise Lee missed Weeks 3-5 with a hamstring injury and second-year veteran Ace Sanders missed the first four regular-season games serving a league-mandated suspension.

Bradley said while the group's road to health was long, "fortunately it wasn't season-ending injuries."

"We knew at some point we were going to get them all back," Bradley said. "We just feel fortunate."

The team's front-line group of Shorts, Robinson, Lee, rookie Allen Hurns and Sanders played together as a unit for the first time Sunday, a day rookie quarterback Blake Bortles passed for a season-high 336 yards, and after working full Wednesday did so again on Thursday.

"It's very good, to have them all out there and see their different skill sets," Bradley said.

Bradley said Lee, who caught two passes for 26 yards last week and who has 10 receptions for 99 yards this season, had perhaps his best practice Thursday.

"I thought yesterday was pretty good, but today he followed up with another really good practice," Bradley said. "Now, with that happening, it makes me feel even better with those guys. They all have different traits, what they have to offer.

"He was the one I think we wanted to keep bringing him along and sort of speed this process up, but the last two days have been good signs."

Take a look back at practice as the Jaguars make some final preparations in advance of their matchup with the Cleveland Browns.

Also around the Jaguars Thursday:

*The team issued one of its smallest injury reports of the season for a second consecutive day, with defensive end Andre Branch (groin) returning to practice full, cornerback Alan Ball missing practice with an ankle injury and running back Toby Gerhart (foot) missing a second consecutive day with a foot issue.  …

*Ball had worked limited with a knee issue Wednesday, but he also has had an ankle issue. It was the ankle that bothered him more Thursday. "I think he'll be OK (for Sunday)," Bradley said. …

*Gerhart started the first five games of the season before missing Sunday's loss to the Titans. He had been hampered by foot and ankle issues since early in a Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, and Bradley said Thursday "we're being cautious with it to make sure it's 100 percent for a return." …

*Rookie Storm Johnson and second-year veteran Denard Robinson have shared first-team repetitions at running back this week, Bradley said. …

*Linebacker Geno Hayes, defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Roy Miller missed practice Thursday with veteran days off. …

*Bradley said he likes how the left cornerback position opposite Ball has played out in recent weeks. Demetrius McCray started ahead of Dwayne Gratz there last week, and the two have competed for time in practice this week and last week. Gratz was the starter there before sustaining a concussion at San Diego in Week 4, and McCray remained the starter against Tennessee last week after Gratz returned to full health. "It's been a good thing," Bradley said. "It's really elevated Gratzy's play." Bradley said he expects a situation at the position Sunday similar to last week when McCray played 36 plays and Gratz played 18. "I don't know the number or reps, but you should see them both play," Bradley said. …

*Bradley on practice Thursday: "I really liked our energy. It's really competitive. Since (Wednesday) morning it has been excellent, so a good work day."

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