JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Wednesday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday
1)Thomas' quest for timing continues.We begin Wednesday takeaways with Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas, whose production has been a topic among observers in recent weeks. Thomas, the team's most high-profile offseason free-agent acquisition, missed the first four regular-season games and has just 13 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown in four games. As Thomas sees it, the issue is timing. "I'm very confident we'll start connecting," Thomas said. "The looks are there. The opportunities are there. As we (he and quarterback Blake Bortles) get a better feel for each other and our timing, it's going to come along." Thomas said he and Bortles had good timing before he sustained a hand injury in the preseason opener that kept him out until Week 5. "We have to figure that out again and try to do it when there's not a lot of time to get those extra reps because we're so far into the season," he said. "It's something we're working on." Thomas, asked about his conditioning, said, "You guys may say it's conditioning, but for the people who are playing, it's just timing. You can run well and you can have great wind, but it's, 'How am I going to get in and out of this route? What body lean? What position?' That's the stuff you can't get until you're back out there and going against defenses. My conditioning is really good. My body feels really good. Now, I'm trying to get that rhythm back."
2)Confidence in Thomas high.One thing was clear Wednesday: confidence in Thomas among teammates and coaches remains high. "We'll continue to find ways to get Julius involved in the offense," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "Part of it is him getting back in the flow and getting his legs back underneath him a little bit." Bortles, speaking earlier in the day, said Thomas affects defenses no matter his statistics. "He does some interesting things," Bortles said. "Defenses play him interesting ways, whether they put a safety or a nickel on him like they (the Jets) did last week. He does get some different coverages and stuff thrown at him." Thomas narrowly missed a touchdown Sunday on a play on which Bortles threw deep to Thomas despite good coverage by safety Dion Bailey. "Any time that's the matchup (a safety on Thomas), I'll throw it to him every time," Bortles said.
Images from Wednesday's practice as the Jaguars prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens.
3)Halfway there. The Jaguars for the most part have been a good run defense this season. But while that was particularly true Sunday against the Jets, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said the defense can't yet call itself dominant against the run. "We're getting there," Posluszny said. "Last week we played a really good run team and played well against them, but we have to make sure that continues." The defense has allowed under 100 yards rushing in four of eight games, and is ranked No. 7 in the NFL against the run. Except for allowing 183 yards rushing in a loss to Tampa Bay, the area has been the most dependable area of a sometimes-struggling unit. Health has helped. Posluszny, strong-side end Jared Odrick, Otto Dan Skuta and nose tackle Roy Miller are key to the strong side of the defense; of that foursome, only Posluszny has missed a game. "To be a great run defense at the end of the year, you have to be solid all the way through," Posluszny said. "We feel like we're on that path, especially with those guys. Those guys are playing really well, but that needs to definitely continue."
4)Hurry up or not?The question persists: should the Jaguars use more hurry-up on offense? The Jaguars without question have been effective late in games and in halves with Bortles at quarterback, a trend that continued Sunday when they scored twice on two-minute drives. "I feel comfortable doing it, and I think our guys do, too," Bortles said. "I think it gives us a chance to go on the fly, not let them get set and do a whole lot complicated things. You can play pretty simple, play fast and call plays we've been running for six months. I think we do a good job at it and it's one of our strong suits." That doesn't necessarily mean more hurry up throughout the game. If an offense fails to convert first downs in the hurry up, it can mean putting the team's defense back on the field too quickly. That can lead to fatigue, and make defensive adjustments difficult.
5)On the road again.The Jaguars' inability to win on the road will be a topic until they make it not a topic. That means winning a road game, something the team hasn't done since December 1, 2013, when they beat the Cleveland Browns to run their road winning streak in Head Coach Gus Bradley's first season to three. The Jaguars have lost 13 consecutive road games since, but Bortles said it's not something that's discussed much among players. "I didn't know it," Bortles said. "I guess if you'd said, 'Hey, when's the last time you won a road game?' I could have thought about it and said, 'I haven't since I've been here.' I don't think it's in anybody's head. I'd be surprised if a lot of guys in the locker room even knew that." One reason player might not know: only a little more than a third – 19 – of the players on the current roster played for the team in 2013.