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Kessler: On first Jaguars start at QB, opportunity, future


JACKSONVILLE – Cody Kessler grasps the situation completely.

"It's a great opportunity," he said.

The Jaguars' new starting quarterback said he knows something else, too.

"It's tough to get opportunities in this league," he said.

That's the storyline around Kessler this week, and it was a storyline Wednesday around the Jaguars (3-8) as they prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

Yes, this is a week of change around the Jaguars.

Head Coach Doug Marrone on Monday replaced struggling starting quarterback Blake Bortles with Kessler a day after the Jaguars' seventh consecutive loss – 24-21 to the Buffalo Bills. The move came the same day Marrone dismissed offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and gave play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich.

For the Jaguars, the change means a new quarterback after Bortles' 72 consecutive regular-season starts. It also means a new play-caller after Hackett's 36 games in the role.

For Kessler, it offers a major opportunity – and a relatively rare one.

"Anytime you get an opportunity to play in this league, especially at that position, it's a big opportunity for him," Marrone said Wednesday. "How he performs, how the people perform around him …

"You don't really get a lot of opportunities like this in this league and when you do, I think you have to take full advantage of it."

Jaguars players on Wednesday expressed confidence in Kessler.

"I expect us to sling the ball around," wide receiver Dede Westbrook said. "That's the type of quarterback he is. I expect him to throw it as hard as ever. He's got a cannon for an arm, so we should be ready for that."

Kessler, a third-round selection from the University of Southern California in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, has played in 13 NFL games. He started eight games as a rookie for Cleveland, posting an 0-8 record with six touchdown passes and two interceptions.

"There was a lot adversity," Kessler said of his two seasons in Cleveland. "A lot of tough things. It is kind of the same thing here right now, 3-8 and a lot of frustration. At the same time, I have always believed it is a new week, a new opportunity."

Kessler, acquired by the Jaguars in an offseason trade with Cleveland, replaced Bortles in the Jaguars' 20-7 Week 7 loss to the Houston Texans. Kessler completed 21 of 30 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the game. That's the only time he played during this regular season.

"As a competitor, I am excited," Kessler said. "Getting these guys to really play for me is something that I really want to prove this week and show them I am ready to go. I don't really care about the record. I am just going out there [with this] as an opportunity. I want to go out there and ball and just have some fun."

The Jaguars have lost seven consecutive games and haven't scored more than 26 points during that span. The offense has sustained a season-long stretch of injuries, with only three Week 1 starters – wide receiver Donte Moncrief, guard A.J. Cann and tackle Jermey Parnell – expected to start Sunday. The Jaguars also on Sunday will be without running back Leonard Fournette, who will serve a one-game suspension for his actions during a fight during the loss to Buffalo Sunday.

"I don't believe that," Kessler said when asked about being in a difficult situation Sunday. "We have some great guys on this team. There is a reason that every single player is here. You obviously want to have every guy out there that you can, but when you can't, it is the same thing: 'Next man up,' and we have guys that are going to be ready.

"Whoever is out there, everyone is competing, and everyone is given an opportunity. I am excited. Everyone is here for a reason, and we are going to be ready to go."

Kessler, who is taking extensive first-team repetitions in practice for the first time, said he hasn't considered what the next five games could mean for his future in Jacksonville.

"I am not thinking about any of that," he said. "I love Jacksonville. Everyone has taken me in and it has been awesome. I would like to stay here as long as possible, but I am taking it one week at a time. Today this practice, then the rest of the week leading up to the game."

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