JACKSONVILLE – Uncertainty reigns, and weirdness is close behind.
That's the story for the Jaguars' defense this week, with the coaches unable to work in person – and with a slew of players unable to work at all.
"It's going to be new territory for all of us," middle linebacker Joe Schobert said Wednesday.
Schobert spoke as the Jaguars (1-9) prepared to play the Cleveland Browns (7-3) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday, and the defensive situation entering that game is …
Defensive coaches are working remotely because of COVID-19, meaning they're installing the game plan and meeting with players via videoconference. But they are unable to run practice, which meant Head Coach Doug Marrone and special teams assistant Mike Mallory ran the defense Wednesday.
"Coach Marrone did a great bringing an enthusiasm and energy to the defense today," Schobert said. "[He] got the calls in quickly and crisply so that's all you can really ask for him."
Schobert added with a smile, "His coaching points in between snaps were not up to par [with] what we're used to, but [with] everything else I think he did a good job."
Also assisting were veteran players, with safety Jarrod Wilson and defensive tackle Abry Jones among players running their respective positions during individual drills.
"At every level of the defense the veterans really have to step up," Schobert said. "You see Abry Jones coaching today out there on the field. All the position groups have the veterans running the individual drills. So, it's going to be a collective effort from everybody, but the veterans really do have to step up and be able to lead the young guys through this kind of situation."
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash and defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich will be unable to coach in Sunday's game, according to NFL COVID-19 protocols. Safeties coach Joe Danna will call the defense during the game Sunday.
"I've never been in this position in my career so far," Schobert said. "It's going to be new territory for all us, and I think we just have to be professionals about it; go to work understanding that some things are going to be stacked against us and play to the best of our abilities.
"We'll see on Sunday if he [Danna] is going to be really aggressive or going to be playing coverage, what his call sheet's looking like. The calls we have up, it's our normal stuff. It's just going to be see[ing] what he likes to call during the game."
The Jaguars also have sustained a slew of defensive injuries in recent weeks, with starting defensive end Josh Allen (knee), starting safety Daniel Thomas (arm) and nickel cornerback DJ Hayden (knee) placed on injured reserve this week. Starting cornerback CJ Henderson was placed on injured reserve last week, with starting cornerback Sidney Jones IV not practicing Wednesday.
"It's been one heck of an adjustment, a lot of adversity that the defense has had to face," Schobert said. "Whoever's out there has to be able to do their job and do it well and we have to have trust in them."
Chris Claybrooks, a starting corner last week with Henderson and Jones unavailable, also did not practice Wednesday. The Jaguars claimed cornerback Greg Mabin off waivers from Tennessee Wednesday, and have rookies Luq Barcoo and Josiah Scott, third-year veteran Tre Herndon and second-year cornerback Brandon Rusnak on the roster.
"There's not a lot of things we can do, so we'll see who we're going to put out there, see how it goes during the week, take a look at the matchups like we've been talking about, and then whoever probably plays the best will play," Head Coach Doug Marrone said.
The Jaguars' injury list as expected remained long Wednesday, with the following active players missing practice: Jones (Achilles), Claybrooks (core muscle), guard Andrew Norwell (forearm), wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. (ribs), wide receiver Chris Conley (hip), left tackle Cam Robinson (illness). The following Jaguars players practiced limited Wednesday: wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (hamstring), tight end James O'Shaughnessy (knee), quarterback Gardner Minshew (thumb), tight end Tyler Eifert (concussion protocol), safety Jarrod Wilson (shoulder), linebacker Dakota Allen (ankle), linebacker Shaq Quarterman (knee) and Jones (ankle).
Marrone on Wednesday cited wanting rookie quarterback Jake Luton to "take a step back" after three starts as a reason for starting veteran Mike Glennon Sunday. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Wednesday said the approach could help Luton "a lot." Luton threw a touchdown and an interception in each of his first two starts – losses to the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers – before throwing four interceptions in a 27-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. "Getting thrust into the fire like he did is difficult," Gruden said of Luton, a sixth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. "We didn't exactly know what we had [in Luton]. There were no preseason games. We didn't get a lot of reps in training camp. We just saw him throw on scout team and in individual periods. Obviously, we still have a lot of high hopes for him and his development, but I think at this time it's best for him to take a step back and hopefully learn from his experience – and the next time he does get a shot he'll hit it running."