JACKSONVILLE – You try really, really hard not to write this one.
Covering an NFL team – be it for a team website, a newspaper … whatever – you write just about everything else before you write The Injuries Story. Yeah, you touch on injuries, but to frame them as an overriding reason for things … not so much.
What we're dancing around in those first two paragraphs, of course, is that the Jaguars have been really, really injured throughout September. That's the reality.
It's obvious to anyone watching, and has been for a while.
But you feel weird writing it, because even if the injuries reach eye-catching, and even game-altering proportions, what's a team to do?
Here's what the Jaguars have done, and what they may have to do for at least a few more weeks.
Deal with it. Adapt.
Mostly, what they must do is figure a way to win a few games in a really critical stretch. If they do that, then maybe – just maybe – this roster can start to look like it was supposed to look.
And maybe we'd get a chance to see what the Jaguars believe they are.
Not that Gus Bradley is going to put it quite that way.
That's because Bradley – like just about every NFL head coach – doesn't spend much more time thinking about injuries than he does talking about injuries. And when speaking to the media in recent weeks, Bradley has been reluctant to speak much about the issue.
It's just not his way, and it wasn't his way this week.
"You always prepare and you plan," Bradley said Wednesday. "If you go back to the Miami game, we had some injuries and guys had to step up. It's no different than last week, so I think we're in that mode that we've got to have everything covered as far as guys getting ready to play.
"We look at the depth, we look at the injuries and we have to plan accordingly."
That's what coaches say, because an NFL head coach can't sit in press conferences and bemoan every injury. Game plans must be made and games must be played whoever is available.
Here's the good news – or at least the OK news – for the Jaguars.
While they won't be at full strength this week for the Colts, they have a chance to be closer. They won't have tight end Julius Thomas, or defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, arguably their two best players. They won't have Denard Robinson, who matters very much at running back.
But they may have defensive end Andre Branch. And if the early injury report holds up, they probably will have safety Johnathan Cyprien, left tackle Luke Joeckel and cornerback Dwayne Gratz.
That still could leave key guys out at what this week is a key area, the secondary. Cornerback Davon House didn't practice Wednesday, and neither did safety Sergio Brown.
Safety Josh Evans was limited with a knee injury, so we'll see there.
With Brown, Evans, Cyprien, Gratz and House out at various times, injuries in the secondary were devastating Sunday against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady – and if Colts quarterback Andrew Luck isn't as lethal as Brady, he ain't close to bad, either.
That's troubling, but overall, this thing is starting to feel a bit better. There's usually no trend or solution with a run of injuries, and there's no trend or quick solution here, either. What you do is wait, rehabilitate and hope you get healthy – and that's what feels like is happening for the Jaguars. Don't look for Thomas or Marks this week, but both are improving. Marks has done a little more each of the past few weeks and Thomas ran routes and caught passes Thursday.
Maybe not this week for either. And maybe not next week. But soon. They, like all of the above-mentioned players, will be back.
That's the good news from the early injuries. Rookie pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and has been out since May. Other than that, all front-line injured players could return.
So, in the meantime, what to do? What's the solution?
Keep adapting. Keep dealing with it. Find a way to win some in this upcoming stretch of three games against 1-2 teams. Get through it, and perhaps more importantly, keep the healthy players healthy.
Will the return of the injured players make the Jaguars elite?
Perhaps not. The roster isn't there yet.
Does it make them a playoff team? Time will tell, though that will take some heavier lifting than the team has been able to do in a long time.
But will it make them better? Would the return of Thomas and some reliability from wide receiver Marqise Lee help? Would penetration from Marks and reliability and experience from Cyprien and Brown in the secondary help? Absolutely.
Mostly, their returns – and the returns of others – would enable the Jaguars to put their team on the field, something they have yet to do this season. It would give them a chance to show what they believe they are.
And that's something pretty much everyone around this team would love to see.