JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Wednesday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday
1.A continuity thing.We begin Wednesday takeaways with quarterback Blake Bortles, who clearly was pleased with Jaguars Owner Shad Khan's announcement Tuesday that Gus Bradley will return as head coach in 2016. Bortles was pleased, too, with the announcement's aftereffect: that Greg Olson will return as offensive coordinator. The Jaguars, 31st in the NFL in total offense last season, rank 16th in the area this season and the team is scoring 24.6 points per game after averaging 15.6 last season. "I'm super excited about working with Oley," Bortles said. "I think the system is awesome in that it will only allow guys to continue to grow and get better. They say the second year in the system is usually where you see the most growth. I think guys will continue to grow and get better. I think you'll see a lot of progress."
2.Gray area.Indications are there could be a heavy dose of Jonas Gray on Sunday. Gray, a running back who signed off Miami's practice squad December 15 following a knee injury to starter T.J. Yeldon, didn't get a carry the following week against Atlanta, but looked impressive against New Orleans Sunday. He rushed for 31 yards on five carries, and had a 25-yard run nullified by a holding penalty on guard Zane Beadles. Gray, a second-year veteran, rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns on 37 carries for New England in a victory over Indianapolis last season, and may get a chance Sunday to take a step toward earning a backup role behind Yeldon moving forward. "It was good to see Jonas get some carries," Olson said. "We'll try to find out more about him in this finale but I have a good feel for Denard (Robinson) right now and where he's at. … I have a pretty good feel for T.J. and Denard and trying to get a better feel for Jonas this week."
Check out images of Wednesday's practice as the Jaguars prepare to travel to Houston for a Week-17 showdown with the Texans.
3.Farewell … or not?Don't assume Sunday is tight end Marcedes Lewis' final game with the Jaguars. He isn't approaching it that way. Lewis, the Jaguars' first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, will enter the offseason without a contract, but reiterated on Wednesday what he said earlier this month – that he wants to finish his career with the team. And there's a feeling in the building that could happen. Lewis has been a strong believer in Head Coach Gus Bradley and the team's rebuild from the beginning, and he remains a productive player in the offense – primarily because of his run blocking. He likely won't sign a huge contract in free agency, and it wouldn't be shocking if the sides can reach an agreement that makes sense for Lewis and the team. "I'm just trying to control what I can control," Lewis said. "I enjoy being here. It was good for me to have a good, solid year; I felt like I got better in a lot of aspects of my game and I think they see that as well. Hopefully, we can figure it out so I can retire here."
4.All in.There has been talk this week about resting players to avoid injury. That's not an approach with which most players agree, and it's not an approach the team's injured players appear to be taking. Defensive end Tyson Alualu on Monday said he will play Sunday despite a sprained ankle sustained against the Saints last week, an approach echoed emphatically by defensive end Jared Odrick on Wednesday. Odrick, who leads the Jaguars with five sacks this season, did not return against New Orleans after sustaining a quadriceps contusion on the game's first drive. He said he continues to work toward playing Sunday and spoke to the media Wednesday with an electronic muscle stimulator attached by wires to the area around his knee. "That's why you see all these wires and this tape and stuff," he said when asked if he still planned to play. Odrick and Alualu both practiced limited Wednesday.
5.Bright future.The focus around the Jaguars this week is on the Texans. But in his last media availability of the season on Wednesday, Olson also spoke extensively about the future of a young offense that was very productive at times this season. The Jaguars' improvement in Olson's first season came with most of the key skill position players – Bortles, wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and Yeldon – in their first or second seasons. "A number of our players still have a high ceiling," Olson said. "That's the nice thing right now for us is we're so young on the offensive side of the ball and we have so many players that we feel like haven't hit their ceiling yet." Olson said he liked the progress made by left tackle Luke Joeckel, and that he believes tight end Julius Thomas and Bortles will continue to develop chemistry during the offseason. He also said second-year wide receiver Marqise Lee impressed in practice in the second half of the season after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury. "He'll get better in the offseason," Olson said of Lee. "We'll find more ways to get the ball into his hands as well because when he does have the ball in his hands whether it be running around or catching the ball he is one of our most explosive players."