JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the Jaguars entering the team's Week 6 matchup against the Oakland Raiders at EverBank Field Sunday
MORE AND MORE RELIABLE
Roy Miller III likes what he sees.
The veteran defensive tackle's not jumping to conclusions. He's not saying the Jaguars' defense has achieved greatness – or even approached it – but as far as becoming the unit it needs to be …
As far as becoming reliable …
As far as becoming something that can make this franchise competitive …
Miller said he's seeing signs of those things – real, tangible signs. That's the first time that has been true in his four seasons with the franchise, and that gave the defensive leader an optimistic outlook while the Jaguars prepared to play the Oakland Raiders this week.
"I think we're developing as a young team," Miller said. "The young players that are playing are learning."
The Jaguars through five games are ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed after ranking 24th in the area last season. There are other statistics that don't show dominance – such as being 21st with 25.4 points allowed – but Miller wasn't talking about statistics this week. He was talking about the unit improving by the week, of doing things defensively that matter.
"Defensively, outside of the [Week 2] Chargers game, it has been a challenge to score on this team," Miller said. "I think we're developing those attributes that a veteran team has. That's winning for not only five games, but for the rest of the time that everybody's here together."
The Jaguars during the offseason rebuilt more than half the defense. They not only signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara, they drafted cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Sheldon Day. Along with Leo defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., that's eight key contributors who weren't on the roster last season.
"We've always felt like there was something missing, or that we didn't have a player here or there," Miller said. "But now we're talking about details. We're talking about the difference in tackling a guy for a one-yard gain or gaining three yards.
"All of those different things tell me we're on the right path to where we want to be. We just have to hone in on the details. I think that will be the difference."
The defense will get perhaps its toughest test of the season to date Sunday. The Raiders enter the game ranked eighth in the NFL in total yards and have scored 25.3 points per game.
Left tackle Kelvin Beachum, defensive end Jared Odrick (hip) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) all were listed as questionable on the Friday injury report but are expected to play Sunday. Wide receiver Neal Sterling also was listed as questionable.
Other Jaguars players listed on the injury report this week expected to play Sunday: wide receiver Allen Hurns (shoulder), cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring), right tackle Jermey Parnell (hip), defensive tackle Abry Jones (hamstring), defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee), strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (calf), center Brandon Linder (foot), wide receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles), running back Corey Grant (toe) and safety Tashaun Gipson (knee).
WHERE IT BEGINS
Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and quarterback Derek Carr may be the highest-profile part of the Raiders' offense, but Jaguars defenders are equally concerned about Oakland's running game. Oakland ranks 13th in the NFL in rushing, and starting running back Latavius Murray is expected to play Sunday after missing two consecutive games with a toe injury. "It all starts with that," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "They have a big, physical offensive line and they run the ball really well. That allows for the explosive plays everybody sees. They have a huge offensive line size-wise. These guys have great size and they're just very physical as opposed to the wide-zone teams."
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles this week was asked what he saw on film he needs to improve. The first thing he mentioned was protecting the ball, and he also talked about the need to make quick decisions – i.e., getting the ball to receivers quickly and letting them "make plays with space." Bortles, who has thrown eight touchdowns with seven interceptions this season after a 35-18 touchdown-interception ratio last season, said some of his accuracy issues this season continue to be "footwork and timing. Anybody that kind of knows it, knows it's tied together. Your feet are tied with the timing and if you're on somebody or take a hitch too long it's time to get off of them or tell them to do something else, and I think that's still part of it. … So I think I've got to continue to work on that and be better there."
"It's definitely something we work on every week. How can we target 80 and get him the ball and get him some good looks and put him in some right positions and make a play? … So it's definitely a weekly process of try to find him unique ways to get him involved. It's on my part to get him the opportunities to make plays."
---Bortles on Thomas