The Jaguars appear to be getting healthier, and if you're a fan, it's OK to knock on wood.
This week will be big for the Jaguars on the injury front and on the field. As might be expected, one might have a lot to do with the other, but the Jaguars took strides toward getting healthier last week before rallying to beat the Colts, 22-17, in Indianapolis.
The ideal situation for an NFL team is to have as few players as possible deactivated because of injuries on game day. For the first time in several weeks last week, the Jaguars had a healthy inactive, but there's still progress to be made in the area.
Wednesday will be big on that front, with offensive linemen Eben Britton and Cameron Bradfield expected to return to practice on a limited basis. So is running back Rashad Jennings. Their progress will be monitored with the hope that one or all will be able to play against the Cincinnati Bengals at EverBank Field Sunday.
How big is the return of front-line players such as Britton and Bradfield?
The Jaguars last week played with their starting corners, Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis, for the first time this season. While the Colts passed for more than 300 yards, the defense was able to run more defensive schemes than in weeks past and had the chance for at least four interceptions.
The healthier a team gets, the more options in the game plan. The Jaguars took steps toward full health last week. This week? Stay tuned.
The Bengals believe they're good, and so far this season, it appears they may be right. The franchise took a step forward last season, making the playoffs as a wild card team and showing improvement with then-rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. After a one-sided loss in the regular-season opener to Baltimore, the Bengals have won their last two games, beating Washington and Cleveland. Dalton has thrown for more than 300 yards each of the last two games. The Bengals are tied for the lead in a very difficult AFC North with Baltimore, and they're a game ahead of perennial contender Pittsburgh. If the Bengals are ready to contend for a division title, they need to keep pace early. In a division that competitive, they can't afford any slips, particularly already having lost to the Ravens, the division favorites.
The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV CBS47 (Channel 6), with Marv Albert on play by play and Rich Gannon on analysis.
Early matchup to watch
Bengals wide receiver A.J.Green versus Jaguars cornerbacks Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis. This matchup could play out multiple ways, and no matter how it does, it's important for the Jaguars. Green has emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous wide receivers in his second season, and he can hurt a defense not only going deep, but all over the field. The Jaguars could opt to cover him one-one-one with Cox, who returned last week from a hamstring injury and played at a high level for about 40 snaps. Or they could opt to leave Cox and Mathis on their respective sides of the field and let each cover Green when he's on that player's side. Likely it will be a combination, but either way, the Jaguars figure to fare better in this matchup with Cox and Mathis having returned to the starting lineup.
Player to watch
Cecil Shorts III. It would be easy to write about Blaine Gabbert or Justin Blackmon, but there's plenty of time to break down their play and it's self-evident each must keep improving. What will be intriguing in the coming weeks will be to see how the Jaguars get Shorts more opportunities. He has caught two huge touchdown passes in the first three games, that after showing glimpses of big-play ability in the preseason and training camp. In his second season, he is still a young player, but on an 80-yard touchdown reception on Sunday he showed an ability to split the secondary and speed to be a more consistent playmaker. The Jaguars think Shorts is going to be a very good player for the long-term, and in the coming weeks, it stands to reason we'll see how he will fit in the short term.
- Wide receiver Laurent Robinson, fullback Montell Owens and cornerback Kevin Rutland underwent concussion tests Monday after leaving Sunday's victory over the Colts with blows to the head. The results weren't immediately known. Greg Jones also left with a blow to the head Sunday, but he returned to the game.
- Britton (ankle) and Bradfield (ankle) are expected to work in practice Wednesday early in individual drills, as is Jennings (knee). How much they participate thereafter will depend on how they work in early drills, Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. Mike Brewster started at guard this past week for Britton and Guy Whimper started for Bradfield.
- Defensive end Austen Lane worked more last week than he had in previous weeks. He has been out with a foot injury since early in training camp, but he has a chance to play this week.
- Outside linebacker Daryl Smith likely will miss Sunday's game with a groin injury, but he continues to make progress, Mularkey said this week. Kyle Bosworth has started all three games at outside backer in place of Smith. Defensive end George Selvie (knee) also remains out.