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Open Locker Room: Trusting process key in red zone


JACKSONVILLE – The question came, as Blake Bortles knew it would.

Bortles, the Jaguars' second-year quarterback, knows the importance of the answer – as does pretty much anyone associated with the Jaguars' offense.

How do you fix the red-zone offense?

That was a pressing question Wednesday as the Jaguars began preparing for the Tennessee Titans. Neither Bortles nor his teammates offered magical solutions, and all agreed improvement in the area is important.

At the same time, Bortles said it's equally important not to press so much that that pressing turns into too much pressure.

"You have to just trust in it," Bortles said as the Jaguars (4-7) prepared to play the Titans (2-9) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday at 1 p.m.

"We go through red-zone periods all week, and (the goal is to) kind of carry that over into the game and execute all at the same level, (to) not get down there and say, 'We're in the red zone and we haven't scored in the red zone in how long,' then try to press and do things outside yourself and the system.

"I think you stay within it, and as a quarterback go through your reads and have receivers run routes the way they have all week."

The Jaguars through 11 games this season rank 30th in the NFL scoring touchdowns once reaching the opponents' 20-yard line, having done so on 15 on 36 opportunities. It's an area in which Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said the team struggled early before improving somewhat in the middle of the season.

But the struggles have returned in recent weeks.

The Jaguars entered this past Sunday's game against the Sa Diego Chargers having scored touchdowns on three of 11 red-zone opportunities. They negotiated that part of that stretch with narrow victories over the Ravens and Titans, but struggled again against the Chargers Sunday.

In that game, the Jaguars reached the red zone four times. They settled for field goals on their first three red-zone possessions, and with San Diego scoring on four of five red-zone opportunities the Chargers took a 21-9 lead they parlayed into a 31-25 victory.

The Jaguars' lone touchdown in the red zone came in the fourth quarter when Bortles threw eight yards to wide receiver Allen Robinson for the game's final margin.

"We have the weapons that we need to score points," Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said. "Right now, it's just about us finding how we're going to utilize that, what coverages we can expect and making sure we're in the right spots so we can have more production in the red area."

Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel said the team approaches red-zone preparation with focus. Whereas music is a staple throughout most of Jaguars practice, that's not the case during red-zone periods.

"When we go into red zone (in practice), we turn the music off and we focus on and we lock in," Joeckel said. "That's a big thing. We do that in practice each week. We have to take that into the game. I don't think there should be an added amount of pressure or anything going into it.

"We just have to keep trusting the process and playing our game. We just have to finish."

The Jaguars on Sunday threw passes on all 11 of their red-zone plays, with Bortles calling pass plays on several plays where he had a run-pass option.

"There was some stuff that I got out of, some run-game answers and stuff like that," Bortles said. "Then, there were just some pass plays that I missed. We'll keep doing what we're doing and find ways to score touchdowns rather than field goals."

Also around the Jaguars, wide receiver Allen Hurns is not expected to practice Wednesday.

Hurns, a second-year veteran who has started every game this season with 48 receptions for 758 yards and seven touchdowns, remains in the concussion protocol after being injured late in Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers.

His status is expected to officially be updated Wednesday. He has not been ruled out for Sunday.

"It's hard, knowing a guy like that and as tough as he is," Bortles said. "We'll go through whatever protocols they have to and they'll make the best decision for Allen."

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