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Inside the Jaguars: Secondary making strides


JACKSONVILLE – Alan Ball likes what he sees.

But more than that, when it comes to the potential of the Jaguars' secondary, he likes what he thinks he'll see in the not-too-distant future.

Ball, the Jaguars' six-year veteran cornerback and the most-experienced starter in a strikingly young defensive backfield, said while the group is nowhere near perfect that's part of what makes him optimistic.

There's plenty of room to grow, and what they can grow into looks pretty good.

"I think we've made strides," Ball said Thursday as the Jaguars (2-9) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (4-7) at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I know it's not where we want to be. I don't think any secondary is ever going to be where they want to be in terms of productivity, but I definitely see the process of getting better happening in front of our face."

Ball is a big reason for that improvement, having started 10 games while registering a career-high 11 passes defensed with one touchdown allowed.

But he isn't the only reason.

The Jaguars from early in the season have skewed young in the secondary. Very young. Rookie Dwayne Gratz, a third-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, started the regular-season opener and started the last three games, too. Safety Johnathan Cyprien has started every regular-season game, and rookie Josh Evans has started the last eight games, sharing time in recent weeks with second-year veteran Winston Guy.

How young is young? No other team in the NFL is starting three rookies in the secondary.

And last week, that young group played one of its best games, helping the defense hold the Texans and quarterback Case Keenum to 169 yards passing while holding Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson to two receptions for 36 yards.

"I'm not saying it's perfect, but you definitely see consistency in things and you definitely see progress," Ball said.

Ball, who signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, said he and Bradley didn't talk specifically about what the first-year head coach wanted the secondary to eventually be. But Ball said the idea clearly was that his style – physical, aggressive – would be a fit.

As this season has gone on, Ball said he can see signs that the group is growing into that mold.

"It's impressive," Ball said. "I don't think we've really seen what some of the youth in the secondary is going to be. One thing I can take away that I see in a lot of them is professionalism, how they do things as a pro. For me, that says a lot about character.

"If I know one thing about this league, it's that you have to have character and you have to be a pro. Some of the situations that come up on the field and off the field, the way they handle things and the way they adjust, I think it's impressive. The young guys in this secondary have a bright future."

Also around the Jaguars Thursday:

*Wide receiver Stephen Burton (concussion), running back Justin Forsett (foot) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder) did not practice….

*Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Miller is expected to play Sunday and that the Jaguars are taking a similar approach with the veteran defensive tackle as they did last week, which was to get him rest during the week with the idea that he could practice Friday and play Sunday….

*Bradley said Forsett, who sustained his injury last Sunday, remains likely to be placed on injured reserve, but that the move might not be made until later this week or early next week…

*Burton is unlikely to play Sunday, Bradley said. That would be the third consecutive game he has missed and the eighth this season….

*Defensive end Jason Babin, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and center Brad Meester all returned to practice after having a veteran day off Wednesday…

*Bradley moved the practice schedule up Wednesday so players could spend the afternoon with their families on Thanksgiving. "We asked all the players to make sure they had some place to go," Bradley said. "As I made the announcement they were all taken care of. The players had already done it."

*Defensive end Andre Branch (knee), linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) and guard Will Rackley (illness) practiced limited after missing practice Wednesday. Each is expected to play Sunday….

*Safety Winston Guy (shoulder) worked full Thursday after working limited Wednesday, and cornerback Will Blackmon (shoulder), offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield (bicep), wide receiver Mike Brown (shoulder), wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (groin) and linebacker J.T. Thomas (ankle) worked limited for a second consecutive day. All are expected to play Sunday, though Bradley said Brown will continue to be evaluated….

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