JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Thursday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the Houston Texans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday …
1)Fighting through.We begin Thursday takeaways with Sen'Derrick Marks, and perhaps the biggest Jaguars story of the week is it seems likely the defensive tackle will play Sunday. Marks, the team's sacks leader last season, missed the first five games of the season rehabilitating from reconstructive knee surgery. He nearly played last week against Tampa Bay, with the sticking point an intense Wednesday practice during which Marks said he didn't quite have the confidence in the knee to push off and plant without hesitancy. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Marks looked rusty in that workout. Marks said before a similar Wednesday workout this week he was determined to work through the mental issues, and Bradley said Thursday that Marks had done so. "I think that last week he really wanted to play and didn't feel he was quite ready, so he kind of came back Wednesday and said 'I'm going to play this week,'" Bradley said. "It almost forced the battle mentally." Bradley said he anticipated Marks having a similar hurdle when he plays. "Then, I guess it's, 'How long will it take?'" Bradley said, adding he challenged Marks during practice Wednesday. "I talked to him and said, 'I'm going to get after you pretty good to help you fight through it.' He said to me today, 'You can say whatever you want, Gus. This is my own battle in my mind and I've got to get it right.' He took that approach with it."
2)So far, so good.As critical as Marks is to a defense that has struggled to pressure quarterbacks without blitzing, the return of Denard Robinson may be as key to the offense this week. Robinson has missed three games after sustaining a sprained medial collateral ligament in a Week 2 victory over Miami. Rookie running back T.J. Yeldon has missed practice the last two days with a groin injury, and Bradley said Thursday Yeldon hadn't been ruled out for Sunday. Yeldon said he played without practicing during the week multiple times at Alabama when dealing with a hamstring issue, and Bradley on Thursday said the team hadn't decided whether Robinson or Toby Gerhart would start if Yeldon can't play. Robinson was impressive during training camp and preseason, and his presence would add a breakaway dimension. "It feels way better than it has the past two weeks," Robinson said. "I feel real good right now, and I'm confident. I think I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do."
Images from Thursday's practice inside the Florida Blue Health and Wellness practice fields.
3)Shadow dancing.Davon House has become a storyline to watch. The veteran cornerback has played well the last two weeks, playing well enough against the Colts two weeks ago that coaches had him "shadow" Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans throughout much of Sunday's game. That wasn't an approach Jaguars had taken previously under Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich, but the Jaguars signed House as a press-coverage corner and he has gained trust in recent weeks he can handle an opponent's No. 1 receiver. Babich on Thursday declined to hint whether House might be asked to shadow Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins. "We just felt like that was good (against the Buccaneers)," Babich said. "I'm not going to give away any secrets, but obviously it's something that worked for us and we have to make sure we look at it as much as we can."
4)Tough tasks.While the Texans' uncertainty at quarterback has caused Babich and the defense to study both Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, Babich said the situation hasn't created significantly more work. "We're watching of them, obviously," Babich said. Hoyer started the season and was replaced by Mallett in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 loss to Kansas City. Mallett started four games before Hoyer replaced him in the second quarter of a 27-20 loss to the Colts last week. Hoyer will start Sunday. "I don't think the game plan changes a whole lot with them, in my opinion," Babich said. "They're different style of quarterbacks, but that's the only thing I really noticed." More concerning is Hopkins, who has emerged as one of the NFL's top receivers with 42 receptions for 578 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has had more than 100 yards receiving in each of the last three games. "He's a player," Babich said. "They target him a lot. He's a guy you always have to be aware of – where he is. He has made some great catches on deep balls that are very impressive."
5)Liking the look.Bradley emphasized accountability early in the week, and from his view he has seen some results during practice this week. Bradley is often upbeat after practices, and he was more so than usual Thursday when he said that Thursday's practice was "straining" even without pads. "Attention to detail – you could just see a big emphasis on it," Bradley said. "I felt it more. It's like players holding players accountable, coaches holding players accountable and the whole mix. It was just really good, really good. I'm glad we have a couple more days to add on to it, but overall pretty good." When it was pointed out to Bradley that he praises practice quite often, he said, "I've got to give the guys credit, right? You say, 'Is this a resilient team?' and then they come out Wednesday and they work like that … like I said, I always try to tell you what's going on. That's what's going on. It was good."