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Open Locker Room: Confidence at cornerback


JACKSONVILLE – Demetrius McCray's moment is at hand.

Not that the second-year cornerback is looking at it that way, because that's not how he or the Jaguars try to approach such things.

"I don't overhype it," McCray said Thursday as the Jaguars (0-4) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. "I'm playing football. I've been doing it for years.

"I just have to do what I have to do to help us win."

McCray, a seventh-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft from Appalachian State, will make his second NFL start Sunday. He will start in place of Dwayne Gratz, who sustained a concussion in the first half of the Jaguars' loss to San Diego this past Sunday.

"It's an opportunity just like last year was," McCray said. "I'm going to make the most of it and try to go out there and do my job."

The start will come with the Jaguars' secondary under scrutiny, having allowed five touchdown passes to wide receivers this season, including three against San Diego last week. Head Coach Gus Bradley this week emphasized the corners challenging opponents' receivers and routes.

It also will come against one of the NFL's better quarterback-receiver combinations, with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown having combined for 427 yards and five touchdowns in four games.

"This is a very good team, with a very good receiver," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "Anytime you're making a start in a season for the first time there are going to be some butterflies and they're going to challenge you. You have to be ready to roll."

McCray, who played sparingly as a rookie aside from a Week 3 start at Seattle, played the second half against the Chargers, playing solidly aside from allowing a 24-yard touchdown to Malcom Floyd.

"We have strong faith in him," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said, noting McCray's combination of length and speed. "So, it will be interesting to see how he does play. He's shown signs of playing really well, but the transition and challenging the receivers, I think he'll take that challenge on. It'll be interesting to see how he fares."

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers essentially threw a perfect pass on the Floyd touchdown, with McCray having good coverage only to have the ball drop over Floyd's shoulder in the back corner of the end zone.

"That was a great throw and catch," Bradley said.

McCray said while he is the same person as a year ago in Seattle there are many ways he is a different – and better – player.

"There's a lot of difference," he said. "I'm still the same Demetrius McCray, but I'm a lot smarter, faster in understanding the game. The game is starting to slow down, so to speak, so there's a big difference. This year, I have a better understanding of how to prepare for a game, how to know how they're going to attack and how to prepare and watch film."

Babich said McCray's experience has made him a better player than a year ago.

"The growth that you get in practicing and playing and competing against pro players is just going to make you better," Babich said. "His experiences will make him better. He's a young player and he still has a ways to go, but he's excited about the opportunity."

Also around the Jaguars:

*Austin Pasztor said he's back to where he feels 100 percent – at last. Pasztor, the Jaguars' starting right tackle, has been out since Preseason Week 2 with a fractured hand. While he practiced at full speed each of the last two weeks, he did so with a protective club on his hand that prevented him from playing. "That would have been extremely difficult," Pasztor said Thursday when asked if he could have played with the full cast. "It's really hard to get much of anything done; it just doesn't work." He said Thursday the cast he wears for protection has now been reduced to allow freedom of his fingers, which he said means he can play at the same level as he would without the device. "I feel really good," he said. "It was tough, because I was thinking I was going to get back in, then we were like, 'Hopefully we can take it off soon,' then last week it was still two fingers in. It felt so close, but it just wasn't good enough." …

*Blake Bortles early Wednesday afternoon addressed the concept of being able to play above the play called in the huddle. That's something the rookie quarterback has shown the ability to do in four preseason and two regular-season appearances. Bortles said while preparation in practice and meetings is crucial, "You're not going to get to throw every ball. You're not going to get to throw every rep in practice. When something happens in the game and it's not what you repped in practice, you have to be able to adjust and make the throw. I think you just have to pay attention to the whole picture rather than the one we're circling saying, 'this is what we think is going to happen.'" …

*While Bortles not throwing downfield more in the second half against San Diego has been a topic this week, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said it wasn't a case of Bortles missing opportunities. "There might have been some designed and called and he just wasn't able to get the coverage or the read," Fisch said Wednesday. "There were some times where he could have taken a shorter throw and would have gotten more yards instead of trying to knock a curl in there or something like that based on some of his reads. He probably left 50, 60 yards out there if I had to guess if we just stuck with all of the reads including the first play of the game." …

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