So far, this has been a good week for Jeremy Mincey.
The Jaguars' veteran defensive end said there are a couple of reasons for that. One, he is feeling the benefits of a bye week, and that's never a bad thing, and the other is that the team's end rotation at long last appears a little deeper.
For the Jaguars' defense, that figures to be a positive. And for Mincey individually?
Well, he said it's pretty good, too.
"Man, it's excellent," Mincey said as the Jaguars (1-4) prepared to play the Oakland Raiders (1-4) at O.co Coliseum Sunday at 4:25 p.m. "This week has been a great week of practice."
That's because for the first time in a long time the Jaguars' defensive line – particularly, the end position – could be at something close to full strength.
The Jaguars' injury news has been somewhat mixed this week, something that continued Thursday. Not only is safety Dwight Lowery out for several weeks with an ankle injury, it continues to be unclear if linebacker Daryl Smith will be able to return from a groin injury Sunday.
Smith, after practicing on a limited basis Wednesday, did not participate in practice Thursday. More may be known on his status Friday.
At the end position, the situation is a bit clearer – and the position continues to be one that looks healthier by the week.
"The more, the better," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "The more healthy guys we have the better, because then we're able to do some things. We feel like that can be a huge difference for us."
When the season began, not only was veteran Austen Lane out with a foot injury, but veteran end George Selvie was out with a knee injury. John Chick, who had 2.5 sacks last season, was on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a patellar tendon injury.
That meant the Jaguars essentially had three healthy ends – Mincey, rookie Andre Branch and reserve Aaron Morgan. Morgan played sparingly before his release before a Week 5 loss to Chicago, which meant Mincey and Morgan played the majority of the snaps.
That's unusual in today's NFL, and Mike Mularkey said earlier this week the large number of snaps may have hurt Mincey, who has yet to register a sack this season after recording a team-high eight last season. "The first thing that comes to mind when you mention his name is too many reps based on what happened with our ends and the injuries we had," Mularkey said.
Lane returned against Chicago, with the sack he registered in that game the first by a Jaguars defensive end this season. Selvie, who has practiced full this week, is expected to return Sunday, and Chick began practicing in full pads this week. The Jaguars can activate Chick at any time in the next three weeks.
"It's big," Jaguars assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Thursday. "When you get guys back you have more depth. Those (Selvie and Chick) are good players that are physical, guys that can set the vertical edge in the run game, which we need. You can keep guys fresh, especially if you've got to play a lot of plays.
"When you have good players that have been out and they come back that helps you."
If that's true at end, Posluszny said it's even more true of Smith, who has missed all five games this season with a groin injury. Smith set a franchise record last season for tackles for loss, and Posluszny said beyond his big-play ability is a reliable player around who much revolves defensively.
"Daryl Smith is the big one," Posluszny said. "Not having him on the field is a significant difference from when he's out there and when he's not. Last year, he was our guy. He's a guy who can change some things. To have him back really helps out our defense.
"You know you've got a guy there who's completely reliable, a guy you can depend on to do the right things all the time. He doesn't need extra help, nothing. He's a true pro, and just his presence makes an enormous difference.
"He's not a huge rah-rah guy and he doesn't need to be. It's not his personality, but he is a playmaker and that's what you need."
The Jaguars for the most part have been cautious with Smith this season, and while they could opt to delay his return another week, less caution being necessary at the end position could be a positive for a line that needs to improve in the final 11 games of the season.
"I think with everybody coming back it's going to be a whole lot different," Selvie said. "With us coming back, guys get rest and they're not (tired) out there. Now, us coming in and rotating, we're going to be full speed."
To the defense, and particularly Mincey, that's a good thing to hear.
"I'm feeling that energy," Mincey said. "We're starting to get on that page we should have been on for a while. I feel a million times better after the rest. We have a good rotation with Austen and George coming back, so hopefully I won't have to play a million snaps.
"That's very important. We want to make that play that counts with the game on the line. You can't if you don't have that extra juice or that extra effort to play those snaps. Once we get a rotation going, it will be real good. The real good teams have good rotation. We haven't had that, but we have it now. Hopefully, we'll get rolling."