JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the Jaguars entering the team's Week 10 matchup against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field Sunday
LEE GAINS CHEMISTRY, CONFIDENCE
Marqise Lee is smiling again, and that's good for him.
It's really, really good for the Jaguars' offense – and it may in fact be the best thing to happen to the Jaguars overall this season.
"We know how fast he is and what he can do," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said of Lee this week.
Yes, the Jaguars have known how fast Lee is – and what he can do – since selecting him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. And indeed, Lee in his first two NFL seasons showed flashes of the player who was the best wide receiver in college football during his sophomore season at the University of Southern California.
But Lee's first two NFL seasons featured more frustration than flash. Injuries were the reason.
Lee missed time in the 2014 and 2015 offseasons with knee and hamstring issues. He didn't miss as much regular-season time, but the offseason downtime hurt his ability to be in synch with quarterback Blake Bortles.
"The last two years it's been hard to trust me – when you haven't been in there and don't have the chemistry," Lee said. "Me being in the mix now is better for both of us."
Lee said this week dealing with the injuries and time missed was a struggle, particularly as a rookie. He entered this past offseason with a singular goal: to stay healthy and not worry about anything else.
He figured hard work and talent would take care of the production, and he was right. He has 34 receptions for 442 yards through eight games, and statistics don't tell his entire story. He's showing real signs of making game-breaking plays, and he's showing a physicality that caused offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to say this week, "When he gets in the ball in his hands … you don't know. He runs angry and he runs fast, which is awesome."
Bortles this week talked of Lee's "rare ability to stay at one speed in and out of cuts" allowing him to create separation.
"He doesn't slow down to change direction; he stays at full speed," Bortles said. "I think that's rare and it's hard to do."
Lee said this week he's an improved route-runner three years into his career. That has shown, and what else has shown is a confident, maturing player who at last is thinking about playing football more than staying healthy enough to get his chance.
"I've stopped worrying about it, honestly," Lee said. "It's out of my control. It's out of all of our control when we get out there and do something, but at the end of the day I'm just going to work on the things I can work on to maintain. Right now it's working so therefore I'm going to continue to do what I'm doing."
Wide receiver Allen Hurns (concussion) was listed as questionable on the Jaguars' Friday injury report, as were free safety Tashaun Gipson (hamstring), outside linebacker Arthur Brown (ankle) and defensive end Chris Smith (eye). Wide receiver Bryan Walters (concussion) has been ruled out.
Hurns spent the week in the concussion protocol, but worked on a limited basis Thursday. That was a positive step toward him playing Sunday.
The Jaguars have four healthy receivers entering Sunday's game: starter Allen Robinson, Lee and reserves Arrelious Benn and Rashad Greene.
All other players listed on the injury report this week have been cleared to play. They are: strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (lower leg), Otto linebacker Myles Jack (hip), center Brandon Linder (hand), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee), defensive end Jared Odrick (foot) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee).
RUN TO WIN
A huge part of the Jaguars' improved run offense last week was the play of backs Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. But part, too, was the ability of Bortles to not only scramble, but to gain yards on the read-option. Listening to Bortles this week it sounded as if that will be part of the approach moving forward under Hackett. "It's part of our offense," Bortles said. "Running the zone-read and scrambling around and doing all that stuff I think creates problems for a defense. I think it keeps them on their toes and makes them stay honest. That's a part of who we are and what we do. I think it's good, I think it's something we will always have that will be a part of the game plan. I'm not sure how big or how small, but I think it helps our offense out." Bortles rushed six times for a season-high 54 yards against the Chiefs.
"I thought he played extremely well this past week. He played with a lot of energy, he was on it, his fundamentals and his techniques were where they needed to be this past week. You can tell he's getting better and better each time he steps on to the grass."
--Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash on third-year cornerback Aaron Colvin