JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Thursday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday …
1.Stepping in.We begin Thursday takeaways on the offensive line, where the Jaguars approach week's end uncertain about two positions. One is similar to last week, with left tackle Luke Joeckel working limited the past two days with an ankle injury and Sam Young prepared to start – as he did last week when Joeckel missed a victory over Miami. The other uncertainty: right guard, where second-year veteran Brandon Linder missed practice Thursday with a shoulder injury sustained Wednesday. Head Coach Gus Bradley on Thursday said rookie A.J. Cann or second-year veteran Tyler Shatley could play in place of Linder, with Shatley taking first-team repetitions Thursday. "I feel comfortable there," Shatley said of the right guard position. "I got a lot of snaps there in the preseason. It's a lot of muscle memory. … I do feel like I'm ready. I've been practicing it. It will be a good challenge and a good opportunity for me."
2.Gerhart works full.While the absence of Linder was the most significant Jaguars news Thursday, running back Tony Gerhart's return to full status shouldn't be overlooked. The sixth-year veteran missed the first two games of the regular season with an abdomen injury and worked full Thursday after being limited Wednesday. He is expected to fill not only the team's short-yardage-running back role, but also a third-down role. He was effective catching passes out of the backfield in preseason. With Denard Robinson likely out multiple games with a sprained medial collateral knee ligament, Gerhart also could have an increased role as backup running back. Gerhart originally sustained the injury in Preseason Week 2 against the Giants, and then had a setback as the Jaguars prepared for the regular-season opener against Carolina when the pain moved down into the area where Gerhart and doctors worried about a sports hernia injury. "It was definitely a flag that we had to be careful with this, but it's really rebounded now," Gerhart said, adding that he worked full speed Thursday in practice.
Images from the Jaguars Thursday practice.
3.Weapon after catch.Not surprisingly, defensive coordinator Bob Babich had high praise for the Patriots' offense Thursday. He called quarterback Tom Brady the NFL's best quarterback, praising Brady's command of the Patriots' quick-tempo, productive offense from the line of scrimmage. He also talked about the matchup issues created by All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, and discussed the added element of wide receiver Julian Edelman. The latter is a key to the Patriots' offense because of his ability to get open on quick, timing routes and turn short passes into catch-and-run gains. "Being an ex-quarterback, he understands a lot of things about the passing game," Babich said of Edelman, who has an AFC-high 22 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns this season. "The routes that he runs, he does a great job – and when he catches the ball, he runs with it. They do a lot of different things with him and he's a weapon."
4.Depth perception.A major storyline early this season has been depth, an area that has been heavily tested because of injuries. Already this season, starters such as Joeckel, tight end Julius Thomas, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, safety Johnathan Cyprien have missed starts. Front-line reserves such as Gerhart, cornerback Dwayne Gratz and wide receiver Marqise Lee also have missed time – and the Jaguars this week are dealing with injuries to Robinson and Linder. "Every team has some starters that are down," Bradley said. "We do have quite a few that are down, but I think you look more at guys who are here and when they get their opportunity you're excited for them." The Jaguars last Sunday held the Dolphins scoreless on the final five possessions despite the absence not only of Marks, Cyprien and Gratz, but also of cornerback Davon House, who missed the second half with dehydration. Cornerback Aaron Colvin also was out two plays late in the game with cramping. "The depth is good," Babich said. "When you get down to your fifth corner – and really the sixth because Gratz was hurt – you always say, 'You never get to your fifth corner.' That's a great job by those guys in critical situations."
5.Keep an eye on … Sergio Brown.The Jaguars' free safety signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. While the initial thought was he would compete with rookie James Sample for the starting free safety position, Brown has emerged early in the season as the most reliable player in the secondary. He was the only starter to play start to finish against Miami last week, with Cyprien out with a calf injury and with the top three cornerbacks – House, Colvin and Gratz missing various amounts of time for various reasons. "Sergio, every week is getting better," Babich said. "He's becoming a leader."