JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Wednesday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday …
1).Working through it.We begin Wednesday Takeaways with Julius Thomas, the Jaguars' veteran tight end who spoke Wednesday regarding his return from a hand injury that has kept him out of the first three regular-season games. The bottom line on Thomas: he's not yet cleared, but he's getting significantly closer. Thomas sustained the injury in the preseason opener, undergoing surgery in early September. He was re-evaluated Tuesday, and has been practicing limited with a focus on conditioning and footwork the past two weeks. "I'm starting to do more stuff to make sure I'm ready to go so when we get the go-ahead it's full speed," he said. Thomas, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from Denver this past offseason, called his early absence, "Tough. People don't always understand how much work we put in throughout the year to get 16 opportunities. It's always going to be something. Life has something for you. I'll work through the things I have to deal with. … I'll be good. I'm looking forward to getting back, whenever that is." Thomas ran routes Wednesday in team drills, his most extensive work since the injury. "I thought he took another step," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. "He looked good."
2)No such Luck.Stopping Andrew Luck is key to stopping the Colts. Obvious or not, Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said the task remains critical. "He's so talented in the way he throws the ball, but (also) his movement," Posluszny said. "A couple of years ago, we had him third-and-8 so many times and he's able to break the pocket and run for the first down." Posluszny also said Luck's size and strength is underestimated. "We've seen him where he's in the pocket and shrugging guys off," Posluszny said. "Their offense goes with him. When he plays really well, they have success." Luck this season has thrown five touchdowns with seven interceptions, but Posluszny said Luck can be effective even when committing turnovers. "It doesn't faze him somehow," Posluszny said. "He's very resilient. If he makes a mistake early on, it doesn't matter. He'll go downfield next opportunity he gets. He's always a threat to make a big play." Luck reportedly is day-to-day with a right (throwing) shoulder injury, but he's expected to play Sunday.
Images from Wednesdays practice as the Jaguars prepare to face AFC South foe Indianapolis Colts.
3)Forever young.A key for the Jaguars Sunday is pressuring Luck; key to that is first stopping running bank Frank Gore. The 11-year veteran signed as a free agent with the Colts during the offseason after 10 seasons with San Francisco, but Posluszny said film shows Gore as the same player who long has been one of the NFL's most physical, productive runners. "He looks really good," Posluszny said. "Watching him on film, our (linebackers) coach (Robert Saleh) said, 'He looks like he's in his third year.'" Gore has rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries this season, and rushed for a season-high 86 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in a 35-33 victory over Tennessee last week. "We have to play well against him, then get a chance to get into some third-and-longer situations – situations we didn't have last week (in a 51-17 loss to New England)," Posluszny said. "We have to stay out of third-and-2 and third-and-3."
4)Getting close. As quarterback Blake Bortles sees it, the Jaguars aren't far from being better than they have shown offensively. The Jaguars averaged 16.3 points per game, with a season-high 23 points against Miami. When asked Wednesday about his confidence that the Jaguars could win a "shoot-out" game against a team such as the Colts, he said he believes the offense is close. "We're a couple of things away," Bortles said. "Gus talks about precision, and (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) Oley talks about it as well. I think we're a play here or there, a missed assignment here or there, away from being constantly able to score points. If we eliminate the self-inflicted errors and wounds, then I think we'll be able to put up a ton of points. I really do think we're right there."
5)Loosen 'em up.The Jaguars enter Week 4 ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing, with rookie T.J. Yeldon rushing for 154 yards on 48 carries – a 3.2-yard-per-carry average. The Jaguars are committed to a strong running game this season, with part of the issue thus far this season defenses being able to slide an extra safety into the box near the line. New England did this often early Sunday, with Yeldon limited to 33 yards on 11 carries and the team finishing with 57 yards on 20 carries. As Olson sees it, quarterback Blake Bortles and the passing offense must reach a level of effectiveness that forces safeties out of the box. "We knew that going into the season that would be the case," Olson said. "Anytime you have a young quarterback, I think you're going to have loaded boxes until you can prove that you can beat them consistently in the passing game. It wasn't anything that we hadn't expected, anticipated, so it was a little bit of combination of different reasons. Certainly, we have to get better at running the football."