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First off the field: Jacques McClendon to start at center


JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars have named their Week 1 starting center.

And if it wasn't the player expected to be there when 2014 training camp began, it's how the month-long search for a starter at the spot played out.

Jacques McClendon, who competed with veteran Mike Brewster and rookies Luke Bowanko and Brandon Linder throughout training camp and preseason, will start at center the 2014 regular-season opener Sunday, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said.

"Jacques is going to be our starting center going into the game," Bradley said Monday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular-season opener at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia Sunday at 1 p.m. "We have made that decision."

With Linder starting at right guard, and Brewster being released Friday, the center competition by this past weekend had come down to McClendon and Bowanko.

"We feel like Luke has an upside, and will continue to compete," Bradley said following an hour-and-a-half practice at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. "We feel like at this point in time, Jacques is the guy."

McClendon said his focus was on preparing for Sunday rather than the results of the competition.

"I don't think we have any time to revel in it," McClendon said. "I'm looking forward to this week, making sure we're on top of ours Ps and Qs and ready for the game on Sunday."

Bowanko, a sixth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft from Virginia, worked extensively at the position in recent weeks, and many speculated he could start the opener. He played the final two preseason games while working through an ankle injury sustained in the second preseason game at Chicago.

"I'm a guy who prepares every day no matter what the situation is," Bowanko said. "The depth chart doesn't really affect me. I come to work every day and put my work in. That's all I ask of myself."

The Jaguars, with longtime starting center Brad Meester retiring following last season, entered training camp with Brewster as the starting center and McClendon and Linder also getting front-line repetitions. Bowanko began camp working at both guard and center, but not getting first-team reps.

Brewster struggled in two preseason starts, and the Jaguars tried various combinations at right guard and center, with Bowanko getting work at both spots in the team's Week 2 preseason loss to Chicago. McClendon – who played guard and center throughout training camp – started at center Week 3 at Detroit, but Bowanko started the Jaguars' preseason finale against Atlanta with McClendon at left guard in place of injured Zane Beadles.

"Coming into camp, my first goal was to show my versatility, and show I could play both," McClendon said. "Showing I could play both really helped me. I didn't get as much center in camp as I would like, but the reps I did get I took advantage of.

"It's good to be settled (at center), but I don't think I am settled. If an emergency happened, I still have to be versatile, so I'll do whatever it takes to make the team better."

McClendon, a third-year veteran, joined the Jaguars off waivers from Atlanta following the 2013 preseason finale, and after being waived twice in September played five games at guard last season with two starts. Originally a fourth-round selection by Indianapolis in the 2010 NFL Draft, McClendon has been waived a total of seven times, spending time not only with Indianapolis and Jacksonville, but Detroit, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

His five games with the Jaguars last season were his first since playing four games with Indianapolis as a rookie.

"This is a separate opportunity," McClendon said. "I think this is just an opportunity based on what I've been building in the past year here."

Brewster, who started 10 games at guard after signing with the Jaguars as a rookie free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft, was waived Friday.

"He might have put a lot of pressure on himself to perform," Bradley said. "We talk about anxiety being a factor. We try to eliminate that and I think he felt that anxiety. It creeps in and it builds. That was my challenge to him, that when he does get that other opportunity that he doesn't have to go there. If he doesn't, he's got a chance."

Also around the Jaguars:

*Bradley said either cornerback Will Blackmon or wide receiver Mike Brown will return punts against the Eagles Sunday. Second-year wide receiver Ace Sanders will serve a four-game suspension to start the season and wide receiver/returner Tandon Doss was placed on injured reserve Friday an ankle injury. …

*Beadles (calf contusion), kicker Josh Scobee (quad), offensive tackle Josh Wells (shoulder) and punter Bryan Anger (groin) all returned to practice on a limited basis Monday, with defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (shoulder) working in individual drills. Bradley said of that group, Wells is the most questionable for Sunday. …

*Cornerback Alan Ball (ribs) and safety Winston Guy, Jr., (quadriceps) also practiced Monday after being held out of Thursday's game. …

*Right tackle Austin Pasztor (hand), running back Storm Johnson (ankle) and tight Clay Harbor (calf) did not practice Monday. Pasztor is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season, and Bradley said Monday he expects Harbor to miss the opener. …

*Rookie second-round wide receiver Allen Robinson, who missed all four preseason games with a hamstring injury, practiced with a helmet Monday. He had gone through warmups Thursday against the Falcons. Bradley said he should play on a limited basis Sunday.

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