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First off the Field: More searching at linebacker


JACKSONVILLE – The search for the best linebacker combination continues.

As the week goes on, it's more apparent that search could include increased playing time for one of the newer members of the defense.

Jeremiah George, a rookie middle linebacker acquired off the New York Jets' practice squad September 23, appears likely to have an expanded role when the Jaguars play the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.

That role could be as a starting middle linebacker, with J.T. Thomas – who started four games at Otto linebacker before replacing injured Paul Posluszny in the middle against Miami last Sunday – potentially returning to Otto. Thomas could also remain in the middle with Dekoda Watson starting at the Otto for a second consecutive week.

"That's yet to be seen," Head Coach Gus Bradley said Thursday as the Jaguars (1-7) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1) at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Bradley said the team likes George's skill set. George was a fifth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft from Iowa State, and Bradley said the Jaguars liked him entering the draft and strongly considered selecting him.

"With him, we saw his traits," Bradley said. "He has short-area quickness. He has really good speed and is really instinctive in the box against the run. What we needed to look at was his pass drops. That's what took him a couple of weeks to really get a feel for what we're asking him to do.

"The run fits were good pretty much right from the start."

Also Thursday afternoon, Bradley said there continues to be optimism left tackle Luke Joeckel will play and start against Cincinnati.

Joeckel, the starting left tackle in the first eight games this season, missed practice on Wednesday after sustaining a concussion against Miami Sunday, but practiced limited Thursday.  He has been cleared medically to work full Friday, and Joeckel said early Thursday he expects to play against Cincinnati.

"Everything looks good," Bradley said. "He'll have a chance to practice (Friday), and he's got one more step to take after that."

Also around the Jaguars Thursday:

*Defensive line coach Todd Wash, speaking to the media early in the afternoon, said much of the defensive improvement in recent weeks has been about improving against the run. After allowing 144 yards or more in each of the first three games, the Jaguars allowed more than 100 yards rushing just twice in the last five weeks. "We talked about being detailed on some things," Wash said. "We were a little out of whack on some of our fits and we also put a couple of different coverages in. They (players) knew we were a lot better run defense than the way we played and they took pride in it. We've just gotten better and better as the season has gone on." …

*Wash said the line as a group has been better in the first half of the season than he anticipated, with 25 sacks in the first eight games. With new players such as end Red Bryant, Leo Chris Clemons and tackle Ziggy Hood, Wash said "I thought it would take a little bit more time for them to gel because they do have to work together as a unit." Wash said he did expect the line to be as balanced as it has been, with no player having more than four sacks but eight linemen having at least one. "I think they're all pretty good," Wash said. "They (offense) are not going to sit and turn their protection to one guy. I think they're all pretty good football players so they're all getting the credit that they deserve." …

*A major topic this week has been increasing takeaways. Despite improvement in the last four weeks, the defense this season has eight takeaways, including three since a Week 1 loss to Philadelphia. Wash said that remains an emphasis for the line. "We're excited about the sacks obviously, but we talk in our room about getting the sack/fumble," he said. "It's not the sack; if we can get the ball for our offense then that's a great chance." …

*Cornerback Will Blackmon and defensive end Andre Branch missed practice again with injuries that will have them out for extended time. Blackmon underwent surgery on a fractured left index finger Tuesday, and Branch is expected to be out five at least five more weeks with a groin injury. …

*Cornerback Aaron Colvin (knee) practiced limited for a second consecutive day, as did cornerback Dwayne Gratz (groin). Colvin remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list, with Sherrod Martin the likely nickel back if the Jaguars do not activate Colvin before Sunday. Tight end Marcedes Lewis, on the injured reserve-designated to return list and eligible to play against Indianapolis November 23, also practiced limited for a second consecutive day. …

*Defensive tackle Roy Miller, linebacker Geno Hayes and Clemons missed practice with veteran days off. That has been relatively routine for the trio on Thursdays this season. …

*Wide receivers Cecil Shorts III (groin) and Allen Hurns (ankle) worked full. …

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