JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics during the Jaguars' bye week, including the play of Sen'Derrick Marks and an opportunity for Marqise Lee
1.A chance to shine.We begin this bye week "Into Focus" discussing a player with a chance to change the storyline of his 2014 season. That player is rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee, a second-round selection with 13 receptions for 141 yards in seven games, having missed three games with a hamstring injury. With Allen Robinson out for the season with a stress fracture in his right foot, Lee figures to be at least the Jaguars' third receiver behind Cecil Shorts III and Allen Hurns. "I feel like I'll be prepared," Lee said Monday, adding that he feels far more prepared than when he was starting early this season before the hamstring injury. To hear Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley tell it, Lee has had his best practices the last three weeks. Shorts said the same thing. That could signal an emergence for Lee, possibly the most gifted receiver in the Jaguars' receiving corps. Whatever he does the rest of the season he figures to improve dramatically given an offseason around the organization, but production in the final six games would give him a significant head start.
2.Mission accomplished.Robinson's absence is far from ideal, particularly in the short term. The rookie second-round selection has been the Jaguars' most reliable, productive receiver this season, and has been increasingly effective in third-down situations in recent weeks. But in the long term – i.e., in terms of his development – Robinson going on injured reserve shouldn't hurt him. He's 10 games in, and during that time showed athleticism and commitment to learning his craft as a route-runner. That gives the team confidence he should be a very productive player in the future. "I don't even want to put a ceiling on him," Shorts said Monday. "He has a chance to be a very good receiver in this league for a long time."
3.An executed plan. The improved play this season of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks is no accident, and can be attributed in part to Marks and in part to the team's offseason approach along the defensive line. The Jaguars in the offseason signed tackle Ziggy Hood, end Red Bryant and end Chris Clemons to add depth and reduce snaps for the defensive linemen, particularly Marks, who played 931 plays last season – 83.1 percent of the Jaguars' defensive snaps. While Marks' snaps have increased in recent weeks, he has played 462 snaps this season – or 66.4 percent of the defensive plays – and has a career-high five sacks through 10 games. "He's fresh," defensive line coach Todd Wash said. "He really gets to show his athleticism for the full 60 minutes. That's a lot of it. We need to continue to make sure he stays healthy and fresh here for down the stretch." Wash also said Marks – who signed a contract extension late last season – has committed to improving specific areas that needed work in the offseason, including footwork. "He's worked to continue getting better," Wash said. "That's what you hope will happen when you commit to a guy long-term."
4.Tired of talking.We'll take time in this fourth entry of Into Focus to perhaps overstate the obvious – that's that players and coaches are tired of what's happening on the field. That's to be expected with a 1-9 record for a second consecutive season, but the difference in tone after the loss to the Cowboys Sunday was notable. The same was true Tuesday when players met with coaches for the last time before the bye. When they spoke to the media afterward, they echoed their thoughts from the locker room Sunday, that whatever it takes, something has to happen to take what Bradley referred to in London as "the next step." Marks talked emotionally of players making avoidable mistakes for what seemed like baffling reasons, and said while that could be attributed to youth the mistakes still had to stop. "I don't know if it's 'grow closer,'" Marks said. "I don't know if it's 'talk more.' I'm sure they're going to evaluate it over the bye week, but it's something we have to do." Said Shorts, "We're tired of talking about it and I know people are tired of hearing it. I feel like we're close. I really, really do. We've just got to keep working it."
5.Gaining experience.Bradley spent time Tuesday in his media availability talking about rookie quarterback Blake Bortles' season, with the upshot being that Bortles is going through what many rookie quarterbacks endure. Bortles' passing percentage started high against Indianapolis early in Week 3 against softer coverages, and as teams have studied Bortles, they have taken away his strengths. "He's going through that and I think for a while there when he threw the multiple-interception games and had some mistakes, teams were challenging him in different ways, so he had to go through that," Bradley said. "We knew that would be a part of it." Bradley said though the loss to Dallas wasn't Bortles' best game – and that he missed some opportunities – he has been more consistent in recent weeks. "We're building a body of work he can get recall from," Bradley said. "That's the same with a lot of our young guys. Earlier in the season he was having some good success, then the games got challenging for him and he's going to continue to see that. I think he has grown the last couple of games from that."