JACKSONVILLE – CJ Henderson could return by season's end.
That's the positive news regarding the Jaguars' rookie cornerback. The not-so-positive news is he won't play for at least three weeks, which makes corner a position to watch for the Jaguars against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.
Not only won't Henderson play, starting cornerback Sidney Jones IV is listed as questionable for Sunday with an Achilles injury. Henderson has started all but one game this season; Jones has started the last five games.
"It's a great challenge for all us, even if we're 100 percent healthy back there," Head Coach Doug Marrone said Friday as the Jaguars (1-8) prepared to play the Steelers (9-0) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. "It's going to be a challenge for whoever's out there."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has passed for 22 touchdowns this season with four interceptions.
"They're really playing well in their passing game," Marrone said. "Schematically, they're doing a good job. Those guys are making plays."
Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. on Friday was ruled out for Sunday with a hamstring injury, and tight end James O'Shaughnessy (knee) also was ruled out. Jones was among three players the Jaguars listed as questionable for Sunday on the Friday injury report with the others being quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb) and rookie wide receiver Collin Johnson (hamstring).
All other injured Jaguars players are expected to be available Sunday.
Third-year veteran Tre Herndon and rookie Chris Claybrooks would start at outside corner if Jones can't play, Marrone said. The team designated nickel corner DJ Hayden to return from injured reserve this week.
"You're always rusty when you come back, but DJ has played a long time," Marrone said. "He looks good running and we just tried to get him some extra work during the week for him to be ready. He has been working a ton on the side, so he's 100 percent from a physical standpoint.
"Now, it's just a matter of going out there and playing. He always has played well for us and we trust him."
If Jones can't play, rookie fourth-round selection Josiah Scott and rookie undrafted free agent Luq Barcoo would be the fourth and fifth corners Sunday. Scott has played two snaps this season and Barcoo has yet to play.
"They'll have to be ready to play," Marrone said. "We'll put them out there. This is a great challenge for them. If it gets down to that, then we'll see if those guys can play or they can't play."
Henderson, the No. 9 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft and a starter in eight of nine games this season, was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a groin injury. Players on IR this season must miss at least three weeks, and Marrone on Friday said the hope is Henderson can return this season.
"We do have hope," Marrone said. "It depends on how he progresses, but that's our intent."
Minshew is not expected to play Sunday, with rookie Jake Luton expected to make his third consecutive start at quarterback against the Steelers. Minshew practiced limited Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
"He has thrown a little more; we'll just keep increasing it each day," Marrone said of Minshew, who started the first seven games this season. "When next week comes, we'll just see where he's at. He's not 100 percent. That's why he's listed as questionable, 50-50. I would probably have an issue putting him in now unless it was just to go in there and hand the ball off – or maybe a couple of throws.
"Right now, it's not 100 percent."
Marrone on the Steelers: "They're a team you always have to reckon with each year as long as [quarterback] Ben [Roethlisberger] is healthy. Defensively, they always have been strong. When the offense gets going, they become a team that's obviously going to contend each year. [Head Coach] Mike [Tomlin] does a great job. I consider him a friend. He just keeps that thing rolling. That's why they have been good for a long time."