JACKSONVILLE – Sunday will matter to Josh Allen.
And yes, it will be cool – really cool – playing against the team he loved growing up.
"That's definitely a big accomplishment I can write off my checklist," the second-year defensive end said Thursday as the Jaguars (1-8) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
Allen, who played at the University of Kentucky after playing high school in Alabama and New Jersey, said Thursday he grew up a fan of the Steelers. But while playing them – and getting a chance to hit and perhaps sack quarterback Ben Roethlisberger – has meaning, Allen said his focus is not on playing the league's last unbeaten team this season but winning.
"At first, it's going to be pretty cool," he said. "But as soon as the game gets going, I'm going to be locked in until after the game when I get to holler at him. But during the game, and in between the lines, I'm ready to play ball."
Allen laughed when asked if he pretended to be Roethlisberger when playing football as a child, saying his favorite players were safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Hines Ward and running back Jerome Bettis.
"I was trying to play receiver," Allen said. "I didn't want to get hit all the time. We were smacking our quarterback. I didn't want to be that."
He added, "I always liked Ben, but I'm ready to hit him."
Allen, a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie last season with 10.5 sacks who has 2.5 sacks in seven games this season, said he doesn't consider his situation Sunday unusual – particularly for a young player early in his NFL career.
"That's basically every week to anybody who ever played," he said. "I feel like that's everybody in the NFL. Every week you always play against somebody where you're like, 'I remember this dude.' But as soon as the game gets started, all that gets thrown away.
"The respect is still there, of course, but your main objective is to win that game at all costs."
The Jaguars on Thursday placed cornerback CJ Henderson on injured reserve. He missed practice Thursday after working limited because of a groin injury. Henderson, the No. 9 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, has started eight games this season with an interception, six passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. remained a focus of the Jaguars' injury news Thursday with the rookie missing practice for a second consecutive day with the hamstring issue that forced him to miss this past Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers. Center Brandon Linder (back) and left tackle Cam Robinson (shoulder) practiced full after being limited Wednesday while quarterback Gardner Minshew II (right thumb) worked limited for a second consecutive day after missing the past two games. Seven other Jaguars players practiced limited Thursday: tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder), linebacker Dakota Allen (ankle), running back Devine Ozigbo (hamstring), running back James Robinson (shoulder), cornerback Sidney Jones IV (Achilles), wide receiver Collin Johnson (hamstring) and Allen (hip).
Jaguars middle linebacker Joe Schobert on Roethlisberger: "He's very good at the backyard, schoolyard football kind of plays where things break down and he and his receivers have a very good understanding of what to do 'post' their initial routes. Whether they're turning up the field or turning back, he's able to put the ball on them. It's really hard for defenses to cover guys for more than two, three or four seconds. He's really good at extending plays. He's been big and strong his whole career. He can move around enough. He has the arm talent to be able to put the ball out there. And he has the guts to be able to make the gutsy throw."
Allen on Roethlisberger: "I feel like he's a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. We're about to play two [in] back-to-back [weeks]. We played [Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers and we saw what he can do for his team in situations. Now, we're about to play against another one. You never know what to expect week in, week out with these guys."
Allen on if losing four and having a chance to win late against AFC North-leading Green Bay may have given the Jaguars confidence: "I was confident we were going to win that game. Just being within four, or losing by four, or losing by three, or losing by one point … we want to win. We don't just want good games where it comes down to losing them. We're trying to win every game."