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Open Locker Room: A core developing up front


JACKSONVILLE – The steps may not be huge, but they are steps nonetheless.

Right now, the Jaguars are seeking improvement on the offensive line. Through five regular-season games – particularly lately – they are seeing it.

While the process can't be rushed, veteran offensive guard Zane Beadles said Thursday the fact that there is indeed progress – and the fact that the line is coming together with a young core that could be the team's future at the position – is a good sign.

"You can definitely feel that we are getting better," Beadles said Thursday as the Jaguars (0-5) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (1-4) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday at 1 p.m.

"For us, it's more of a feeling thing than stats. We're getting more comfortable with each other, and with the offense as a while. You can feel that."

In a very real sense, the Jaguars' offensive line is at Square One.

The group that started against Pittsburgh on Sunday – a group that allowed one sack and showed increasing signs of blocking well for the run— was as follows: third-year right tackle Austin Pasztor, rookie right guard Brandon Linder, rookie center Luke Bowanko, Beadles and second-year left tackle Luke Joeckel.

It will make its second start together Sunday at Tennessee, with Pasztor returning to the lineup last week after missing the first four games of the season with a hand injury.

That group is young, with Beadles the player with more than 16 NFL starts. It's also the group the team projects to be its starting line this season when all players are healthy, and could be the group that starts together for the foreseeable future.

It's also a unit that put together perhaps its best game of the season against Pittsburgh. After allowing 17 sacks in the first three games, the unit has allowed four in the last two; against the Steelers, it allowed just one.

One reason for the reduction in sacks has been the mobility and pocket presence of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who has started the last two games, but offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said the line is a factor, too.

"I think our whole offensive line last week played better than they did," Fisch said.

The group has improved run-blocking, too. After rushing for 89 yards on 35 carries in the first two games of the season, an average of 44.5 yards per game and 2.5 yards per carry, the Jaguars have rushed for 246 yards on 60 carries in the last three games.

That's an average of a little more than four yards a carry and 82 yards a game – not numbers that would rank among the NFL's best, but ones that show progress.

The Jaguars rushed for 105 yards on 20 carries against the Colts in Week 3 and 85 yards on 25 carries in San Diego in Week 4. They didn't run as often as would have been ideal against Pittsburgh, but 15 rushes went for 56 yards, an average of 3.7 yards per carry.

"We're definitely taking steps," Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart said. "I think it's showing. Each and every week, it's gotten a little bit better. I feel like it's getting there. We're all on the same page and finding our techniques and feeling how everybody's going to go.

"It's starting to come together a lot better."

And Beadles said if the core starting now is indeed the core for the future, time will benefit an area where continuity and cohesion is as beneficial as it is hard-earned.

"We've got young guys who like to come in and work to get better who want to learn," Beadles said. "That's what we're striving for and that's what we're working for. It bodes well for the future if you can keep guys together, and you have the right guys in the right spots and you get more and more comfortable. Your level of play improves and continues from there."

Also around the Jaguars:

*Fourth-year wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said he plans to practice Thursday after being the only Jaguars player not practicing Wednesday. Shorts missed Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury, and also missed the first two games of the regular season with a hamstring injury. He has seven receptions this season for 60 yards and a touchdown. "I'm doing better," Shorts said. "I think I've learned how to deal with it after so many times. I'm just going to stay optimistic about everything and let my play speak for itself. I'll practice today, see how I feel in the morning and go from there." …

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