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Jaguars-Titans Into Focus: Gerhart, Joeckel and urgency to win


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics as Jaguars-Titans nears, including RB Toby Gerhart, OT Luke Joeckel and the urgency to win …

1.The Jaguars' urgency is real …We begin this version of Jaguars-Titans Into Focus with a topic that's becoming increasingly clear – that is, the Jaguars' need to win. Even at 0-5, Jaguars players rarely discuss winning and losing specifically. That's because Head Coach Gus Bradley's philosophy is to improve steadily without adding the pressure of worrying about victories and losses. But veteran cornerback Alan Ball said while Bradley's process remains a focus there is thought this week about needing a victory. "Obviously, we stick to the process, because that's what our leader preaches," Ball said. "But at the end of the day, I don't think there's any guy in this locker room who's not pressing for a win. We want to get that victory not only for ourselves, but for the coaching staff and for the organization." Bradley said he talked to the team this week about getting better and taking that concept to a level so that the desired result of winning indeed occurs. "We're not at our best yet," Bradley said. "We've had drops, missed assignments and things like that. Not as many as before—we're getting better at it—but still not good enough. I think it was just to point that out to them."  ….

2… and it's real for Toby Gerhart, too. Running back Toby Gerhart said Wednesday the ankle-foot issue that has hampered him throughout the regular season is feeling OK, but he also said there is a level of frustration from rarely being 100 percent this season. "I was brought in here to help and make a difference and so far I probably haven't done it," said Gerhart, who has rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries in five starts after signing as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. "We'll get it there, and the time will come where I really feel like I can make a difference." Gerhart, who sustained an ankle injury Week 1 against Philadelphia, said he entered Sunday's game against Pittsburgh feeling 100 percent only to re-aggravate his injury on the first series. "Going into the last game was the first time I felt like I could explode," Gerhart said. "It's been tough. I feel like I can't fight for the extra yards. I'm afraid it's going to get caught up or I'll aggravate it. It's frustrating, but I'll keep working to get out there and do the best I can."

3.Confidence in Bortles is growing.Blake Bortles' confidence and decision-making has been the Topic of the Week in many Jaguars circles. One reason is that Bortles checked to about seven pass plays from run plays in the loss to Pittsburgh Sunday and another is that Bortles has thrown six interceptions in 10 quarters as a starter. While Bradley talked on Monday about having some run-only plays called and possibly discouraging Bortles from calling an audible in those situations, the overriding feeling is there's no need or inclination to curtail the rookie quarterback. "He will be the first to admit that (he) has to make good decisions," Bradley said. "We love his mentality and that's not a concern of ours that you've got to handle with kid gloves." Bradley said he absolutely doesn't worry that Bortles will get cautious and veteran tight Marcedes Lewis agreed. "That's the kind of player he is," Lewis said. "He's not really weathered by normal things that happen to everybody. Regardless of whether you're a rookie or if you've been in the league 12 years and been to Pro Bowls – you're going to throw interceptions. It's going to happen. It's going to happen a lot more, but he has that attitude. If he's fortunate enough to play a long time in this league, he's going to throw more. The key is for him to continue to mature and when he makes plays he comes back and rips the defense for touchdowns."

4.The kid is all right.Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel has been under scrutiny this season, something that's expected for a player selected No. 2 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Joeckel missed 11 games last season with an ankle injury, starting the first four games at right tackle before sustaining a Week 5 ankle injury a quarter into his first start at his natural position of left tackle. Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said this week Joeckel has made significant strides in recent weeks, particularly for a player with 10 total NFL starts. "He's doing a good job in pass protection," Bradley said, noting that Joeckel hasn't allowed a sack in the last three games. "We just keep challenging him. We want more, we want more and we want more from him. We are trying to elevate the bar on what we expect out of him, but he's doing a good job handling it, especially in pass protection." Joeckel has just one negative pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus this season, and that was when he allowed some quarterback hurries – but no sacks – to San Diego Chargers defensive end Dwight Freeney. Said Fisch, "I think he's improving each week." …

5.Four is OK, two is a lot better.The search for the right running back combination continued this week, with Bradley on Wednesday saying rookie Storm Johnson got a few more reps in practice than in the past. Johnson, a rookie seventh-round selection from Central Florida, rushed for 27 yards on four carries in his first action Sunday and looked as explosive as any Jaguars back this season. The Jaguars utilized all four of their active backs – starter Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson and Johnson – Sunday against Pittsburgh, but Fisch said Wednesday ideally the team would identify a back or two to carry most of the load. "I think two would be great," he said. "I think four becomes tricky, where we're at right now." Fisch said key to finding the right running back combination is health. Gerhart has been hampered with foot and ankle issues much of the season, with Johnson missing the first three games with an ankle injury and pulling himself from Sunday's game with an ankle injury. "We have to get healthy," Fisch said. ….

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