READY FOR A TEST
No question Sunday is a test for Eugene Monroe.
But the Jaguars' offensive tackle said when it comes to facing Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, it's not something he's going to overemphasize.
"I've got to block their best defender," Monroe said. "That's the job for me every week."
Monroe, a Top 10 selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, likely will be matched up often on Sunday with Allen, a four-time All-Pro selection who registered an NFL-best 22 sacks last season. Head Coach Mike Mularkey said this week the Jaguars will attempt to counter Allen in various ways, but Monroe's role will be critical.
It's also a chance for Monroe to enhance his reputation league-wide, though he said that's not how he views any single game.
"Every week is a test," he said. "Every opponent is different. Everyone's unique. There are different styles of play you see every week. You've just got to do the job of preparing. You can't get overhyped one week, then slack off the next week because you don't think the guy's good. You have to prepare the same way for every opponent. That's what I strive to do."
Consider Bob Bratkowski impressed.
Bratkowski, the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, has spent time this week game-planning for Minnesota, but he also has spent time with running back Maurice Jones-Drew as the three-time Pro Bowl running back has worked to become acclimated with the offense.
Jones-Drew ended a 38-day holdout this past Sunday, and Mularkey said he will play Sunday as a backup behind starter Rashad Jennings.
"It's really good to have him here," Bratkowski said. "It's really impressive. He's a very intelligent young man. He has picked things up really quick. I really like his personality. It's my first time around him, but it has been really fun."
Bratkowski said the approach early with Jones-Drew has been to try to give the running back the overall picture of the offense.
"He's trying to get the background that makes the pieces fit together," he said. "You can't just go out piecemeal. You have to get the big picture. He's done a good job grasping it."
Jones-Drew said earlier this week that Jennings has been key helping him with the intricacies of the scheme this week.
"When I first came in, he was helping me out," Jennings said. "Since he's coming back, I want to be the one helping him out. We've always had that kind of relationship. We're excited for this season and we're going to feed off each other."
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon and guard Uche Nwaneri each practiced full Thursday after being limited Wednesday.
Linebacker Daryl Smith, meanwhile, did not practice Thursday because of a groin injury.
Blackmom is listed on the injury report with an ankle injury and Nwaneri sustained an ankle injury in the preseason finale against Atlanta last Thursday. Smith had missed the preseason with a groin injury before practicing Wednesday.
Defensive ends Austen Lane (foot) and George Selvie (knee) each missed practice Thursday for a second consecutive days, while defensive end Aaron Morgan and center Brad Meester practiced full after missing Wednesday for non-injury reasons.
Safety Derek Cox (hamstring) and cornerback Mike Harris (hamstring) were limited for a second consecutive day.
"I'm just ready to finally get the season going. It's something I've thought about for a long time, getting here, going through the process and just getting out there on the field. I'm just excited."
"He (quarterback Blaine Gabbert) is progressing daily. You're seeing progress. To say exactly or qualify or quantify it, it's hard to say how far he's come. It's a work in progress and hopefully he will continue to get better. It will be another judgment, another test opening day. All I can say is I am very pleased with where he is at this point. I can't tell you that I was hoping he would be to any kind of level, but I can tell you that I am very pleased with where he is right now."
"It's a different energy around here. No question. We're excited to go out there. For us, the guys inside this locker room, we're excited to go out and put up a performance we'll be happy with."
The Jaguars will practice Friday without pads, then have a walkthrough Saturday before leaving for Minneapolis, Minn. They visit the Minnesota Vikings in the regular-season opener Sunday at 1 p.m. at Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis.
There are those who can't help but focus this week on the pocket presence of Gabbert. Bratkowski is not among those. Gabbert appeared to improve in the pocket during the preseason, and when asked if he was concerned Gabbert might "revert" to last year once the regular season began, Bratkowski replied, "I'm really not. I don't think that I've even thought about it. I'm more concerned with the things that we've worked on. What were the reads, the decision making, those are the biggest things that we're talking about. We're not reverting back to anything from last year. Last year was last year." Overall, Bratkowski said of Gabbert, "He's progressed. He's grown as a player."
- With Mularkey saying this week the Jaguars' defensive tackles likely will rotate to defensive end at times against the Vikings, it's reasonable to assume defensive tackle Tyson Alualu could play a role in that capacity. The 2010 first-round selection has played end at times, and said the key to the process is getting repetitions in practice to prepare. "You get a chance to practice that, watch film and pay attention, you kind of know what's expected," he said. "You have to be tuned in to what they do, but it definitely takes a bunch of repetitions at practice. It's different when you hear it and actually go out there and see the actual looks."
- Blackmon said he didn't see much double coverage in the preseason, and he's not sure he'll see much to start the season. The two-time Biletnikoff Award winner said despite catching 10 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games, he's still a rookie with no regular-season tape. "I'm sure I have to do something to get double coverage," he said. Of his preseason, he said, "I was happy with it with the circumstances I went through. I'm young. There's always room for improvement."
- If there's one thing you know about the NFL regular-season opener it's there's a lot you don't know. Bratkowski said that's particularly true trying to game-plan for an opener. "The first thing we will tell the players the night before the game is don't be surprised by anything," Bratkowski said. "I've had teams that were 4-3 defenses all for the previous year through preseason and come out and play 3-4 defense, which is a radical change. People have blitzes they haven't shown, they have fronts they haven't shown, they have coverages they haven't shown, so you have to be ready. The biggest thing that we'll talk about is after those series are over and we see something that's different you have to go over to the sidelines and talk it through. It's not going to be anything that we can't handle, but it's going to be something that we'll need to communicate about."