SEARCHING FOR A LINEUP
Given the situation, Mike Mularkey said it's too early to know for sure.
That's the nature of NFL injuries, which is why the Jaguars' head coach four days before Sunday's 2012 regular-season home opener said he doesn't yet know absolutely who will start along a beat-up offensive line.
"We're talking," Mularkey said Wednesday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Houston Texans at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
The discussions largely center around the status of starting guard Eben Britton and starting right tackle Cameron Bradfield. Neither finished Sunday's opener, with Britton sustaining an ankle injury and Bradfield sustaining lower leg injury.
Guard Uche Nwaneri practiced Wednesday after leaving and returning Sunday with an ankle injury, but Britton worked on the side Wednesday and Bradfield did not practice. Mularkey said Britton has not been ruled out for Sunday.
Bradfield, like running back Rashad Jennings (knee), underwent an MRI Monday, and while they are being monitored daily, neither has been ruled out. Mularkey said the team is looking at various scenarios if Britton and Bradfield can't play, and said the most likely lineup would include rookie Mike Brewster at guard and veteran Guy Whimper at tackle.
The team acquired tackle Herb Taylor as a free agent this week, and guard Josh Beekman – who played well in the preseason finale against Atlanta – was released Wednesday afternoon when the team claimed offensive lineman Troy Kropog off waivers from Tennessee.
"We always look at numbers where we're short or we have injuries or possible guys that are going to be out," Mularkey said. "Every day I sit and do the depth chart and go 'if this happens, this is going to take place and if that takes place, this is what's going to happen.' There are some scenarios that we're planning on.
"Some of that has to be based on how the week of practice goes. I don't want to do it today because today is just too early in the week for me to make those predictions. We do have some ideas of what's going to happen if some of those guys don't play."
READY FOR WHATEVER
As Mularkey sees it, Maurice Jones-Drew's workload may increase Sunday.
Unsurprisingly, Jones-Drew has no problem with that.
Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher last season, rushed 19 times for 77 yards and caught three passes for 18 yards last week against Minnesota a week after returning from a 38-day holdout. With Jennings' status uncertain for Sunday, Mularkey said Jones-Drew likely will have a larger work load.
"A lot of it is based on how the game is going," Mularkey said. "He'll see extensive play compared to what we had planned for last week's game, but I'll never put a number on it because it may be more if we need more. It will be less if we don't. I don't keep a number count on carries."
Mularkey said Jones-Drew seemed in "pretty good shape" for the opener considering his holdout.
"I think it's a gradual thing," Mularkey said. "I don't know if one week's going to get him into the top where he was last year at his highest level of fitness. I think some of those runs may have broken free maybe if he had been here earlier. I was very pleased with the production that he did have, and as hard as he ran was unbelievable. I think it's going to get better and better."
Jones-Drew, who joked last week that he was ready for 80 carries in the opener if necessary, said he was ready for whatever number of carries he receives.
"It depends on how many plays we get, is how many carries I'm ready for," he said. "We'll see how increased it is. I definitely didn't think it was going to be what it was last week, but that's how it happened and we just got to adjust so we'll see how it goes this week."
Britton, Jennings, defensive end Austen Lane (foot), defensive end George Selvie (knee), Bradfield and linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) did not practice Wednesday.
Cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring) was limited, with cornerback Mike Harris (hamstring) and Nwaneri practicing full.
"I think we have to learn those things. We have to learn how to win the close ones in all phases. We've got to be better somewhere in all three phases. I think there's a process to learn how to win and be a consistent winner. I do."
"They're a great defense and they pride themselves in getting pressure on the quarterback. They have a great defensive line, linebackers and a secondary, so it's going to be a good game for us. We'll definitely have to play our A-game but we're excited for this opportunity."
"I feel fine. Obviously, you're going to be sore after (a game). Now I'm not sore, but on Monday I'm pretty sore from obviously taking hits. I haven't been hit in the whole season but it's gone away. (I'm) ready to go against another physical team and get ready to go back out there."
The Jaguars will hold a non-padded practice Thursday in preparation for the 2012 regular-season home opener against the Houston Texans Sunday at 1 p.m.
Wide receiver Cecil Shorts may have earned more opportunities. Shorts, a fourth-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft from Mount Union who caught two passes for 30 yards and a touchdown last season, caught four passes for 74 yards in the regular-season opener. One of those was a diving, 38-yard touchdown that gave the Jaguars the lead with 20 seconds remaining, and another was an impressive third-down reception on which he battled through a tackler for an eight-yard first down. Mularkey said Shorts has benefitted from the coaching of wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan this season, and that "He wants to do good and he's made some big plays. He's made some of those catches so when the ball's been up he's confident and so is the quarterback to throw it to him. That has a lot to do with it. It's that trust level." Mularkey, asked if Shorts' snaps could increase, replied, "He may have more plays in the game. Yeah, we may find ways to get him into the game."
- Jones-Drew said while the team has had to shuffle players along the offensive line, changing personnel in front of him isn't a huge issue. "We all practice," he said. "Sometimes there's guys taken out, guys put in. The offensive linemen as a group, they block the same, so we just want to continue to work on that. I will never talk about injuries but the offensive line we'll be fine. We'll definitely be okay."
- The Jaguars registered two sacks Sunday against Minnesota, with Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder throwing for 192 yards in the second half after throwing for 78 yards in the first half. Both of the team's two sacks came in the second half, with a sack by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton forcing a fumble to set up a short field goal by Josh Scobee. Mularkey said blitzing to create pressure is an option, but the focus of the defense is to rush the passer with four down linemen. "We have to be careful when we start doing other things that aren't our bread and butter," he said.
- Considering the numerous foot and ankle injuries sustained by the Jaguars in training camp and this season, Mularkey said the Jaguars are investigating many areas to determine a reason. "We're looking at it all," he said. "We're looking at shoes. We're looking at surfaces that they've been on, prior injuries. We're looking at everything of why we've had an epidemic of those kinds of injuries this season. Yeah, we're looking at everything."