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View from the O-Zone: The challenge is real

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JACKSONVILLE – This is getting real.

We’re talking about adversity – and if you think Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone will shy away from it or decline to acknowledge it, guess again.

Yes, these are rough times for the Jaguars. That’s real. Their injuries entering a road game against America’s Team Sunday are real, too – and you know what? That’s OK.

Marrone actually sort of likes it.

“I kind of get excited about it; it’s a great challenge,” Marrone said as the Jaguars (3-2) prepared to play the Cowboys (2-3) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

“Some people will call it adversity,” Marrone added. “Some people will call it challenges. I look it as an opportunity to do something more, to do something better.”

Marrone wasn’t alone Wednesday. Jaguars players echoed Marrone’s thoughts that there are difficulties about this week. They also echoed his thought that no one’s going to feel sorry for the Jaguars.

“That’s football,” wide receiver Keelan Cole said. “That’s the league.”

Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson agreed.

“Right now, we’re definitely being tested,” Gipson said. “Obviously, the great teams respond well to these types of adversities. I have confidence how we’re going to respond to this. If somebody has to do more, so be it. We have the mature guys in this locker room to overcome whatever’s going to hit us right now.”

Know this:

Marrone on Wednesday wasn’t ignoring the current situation.

The Jaguars are beat-up along the offensive line, with three starters either not practicing or practicing limited Wednesday and a fourth – left tackle Josh Wells – already ruled out Sunday with a groin injury. Marrone announced that Wednesday, which means Josh Walker on Sunday will be the team’s third starting left tackle in the last five games.

And yes, they will be without running back Leonard Fournette for a fourth time in five games because of a lingering hamstring issue, too. Marrone announced that Wednesday, too.

Here’s how beat up the Jaguars are at running back:

The original plan this season was Fournette starting with T.J. Yeldon backing him up and Corey Grant as the third-team back and big-play threat. The projected depth chart for Sunday: Yeldon, with 11-year veteran Jamaal Charles and rookie David Williams.

The Jaguars signed Charles and Williams Tuesday, with Williams spending the first five games on the Denver Broncos’ practice squad. Charles is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who rushed for 269 yards on 69 carries for the Broncos last season.

Fournette last season defined the Jaguars’ offense. He was the identity. The idea this season as to ratchet that up further – hence, the offseason signing of unrestricted free agent guard Andrew Norwell.

“When you have injuries at the line and you lose two running backs out of three, it’s kind of hard to keep up that identity,” Marrone said. “We’ve got people in there now and we’ll get back to work on it.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles on Wednesday called the injuries “obviously not ideal.”

“We were pretty fortunate last year as far staying healthy, whereas this year we obviously haven’t quite been as lucky,” Bortles said. “It’s part of football. It’s part of the NFL. It happens to teams every year. It’s how you handle it and how you get through this time.”

Bortles called the next three weeks – a road game at Dallas, a home game against Houston and a home game against Philadelphia in London – important heading into a Week 9 bye.

“We’re going to have grind these three weeks out, and find ways to win football games,” Bortles said.

What the Jaguars won’t do is panic. And don’t look for dramatic changes in philosophy.

Marrone was asked Wednesday about the possibility of being more aggressive defensively because of the offensive injuries. His answer: No.

“When you do that you can get yourself in trouble, too,” Marrone said. “We’re just working on not giving up as many explosive plays as we did last week. We just want to continue to get better.”

One positive for the Jaguars: their history under Marrone in similar situations. Sunday against Kansas City was their ninth regular-season or postseason loss since he took over as interim coach with two games remaining in the 2016 season. The Jaguars have won the ensuing game nine times, with the lone exception a loss to Tennessee in the 2017 regular-season finale after the Jaguars had clinched their playoff positioning. Marrone on Wednesday offered no complex secret to that trend.

“You just try to regroup and go,” Marrone said.

That’s what the Jaguars must do Sunday. No, they won’t do it at full strength, but full strength left town a couple of weeks back and won’t be returning anytime soon.

What’s in its place is adversity – real adversity. And that’s OK.

Marrone in fact actually kind of likes it.

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