JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics that are becoming clearer as Sunday's game between the Colts and Jaguars approaches …
1. This is a young offense – unbelievably so.If it has been difficult to keep pace with the whirlwind that has been Jaguars news this week, from the swirling has emerged an undeniable fact: the offense is young, so much so that youth could define the season. Consider: the Jaguars this week could start two rookie wide receivers (Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson), two tight ends with a combined two NFL starts (Mickey Shuler, rookie Marcel Jensen), two rookie offensive linemen (Luke Bowanko, Brandon Linder) and two tackles with a combined 11 NFL starts (Sam Young, Luke Joeckel).Five-year veteran running back Toby Gerhart has just eight NFL starts. "We're young," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "We understand we're young. … We have to make sure we can execute the plays we call. We understand we're going to go through some growing pains. We understand what we're facing and what we're playing." Considering that guard Zane Beadles is the lone Jaguars offensive player with four or more seasons worth of starts, it may explain at least somewhat why coaches continue starting quarterback Chad Henne (52 NFL starts) over rookie Blake Bortles (zero regular-season snaps).
2. Keeping it simple.The offense isn't just young. Even the veterans are new to the system. While Beadles and Gerhart are fifth-year veterans, they are in their first season in the offense. That means Henne and Joeckel could be the lone starters Sunday who were with the team last season. If wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (hamstring) returns, that would be three. "We can't say, 'Remember last year when this happened?'" Fisch said. "If you're playing with (tight end) Marcedes (Lewis), you're playing with (right tackle) Austin Pasztor, you're playing with Chad and you're playing with Cecil, now you have four guys you can say 'remember last year' and they can help the rest of the group. When you're not playing with any of those guys … you don't want to say, 'We'll run last year and tweak.' You want to say, 'Let's put this in now.' You don't want to put a bunch of new stuff in, so you're really working with what you've been working with and what you've been doing. I don't know if it's scaled back as much as it is adapting to the personnel that we have."
3. Faith remains strong.If two Jaguars players have been under scrutiny this week, it may be Gerhart and Henne. But coaches continue to like what the pair brings. Gerhart, who signed as a free agent from Minnesota in the offseason, has rushed for 50 yards on 25 carries in two games, and the Jaguars' rushing game as a whole has struggled. Fisch noted that the Jaguars carried just 10 times in a loss to Washington Sunday. "You have to carry the ball more," Fisch said, also noting that, "The run game is on everybody. We have to make sure every block is sustained on the perimeter. We have to make sure up front that we target people. It really has to all work together." Henne, meanwhile, has impressed coaches with his consistent approach. "That's the amazing thing," Bradley said. "He doesn't waver one bit." Bradley said this week the coaches never discussed replacing Henne with Bortles, and said he made a point early in the week to express to Henne the faith the staff has in him. "I wanted him to know exactly what our thoughts were," Bradley said.
4. Message received.Bradley said Wednesday he doesn't believe in making a roster move to send a message, and said that wasn't the idea behind releasing tackle Cameron Bradfield Tuesday. But Bradley said that message does happen naturally when a change is made, and players echoed that this week. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said the move reiterated "that this is a high-performance business," adding, "If you don't perform at your highest level, or if you don't live up to the standards we set, you're not going to be a part of this group. That goes for any of us." Shorts said he didn't think of the move as a message about accountability, saying when he thinks of accountability it's about being accountable to teammates. Beadles said a player being released isn't necessarily a message, and that every player understands you get released if you don't perform. "Maybe it's a little reminder," Beadles said. "You never like when something like that happens."
5. Time is needed.Much emphasis has been placed this week on the youth at receiver. Shorts practiced well Wednesday and appears to have a chance to play, but other than Shorts, the team's top receivers are rookies Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Hurns is day-to-day with an ankle sprain and Lee experienced hamstring tightness Wednesday, so if Shorts can't play Sunday, the Jaguars could be down to Robinson, second-year veteran Mike Brown and Tavarres King, acquired from Carolina's practice squad Tuesday. The group that played Sunday – Lee, Robinson, Hurns and Mike Brown – struggled to be in sync with Henne, and Bradley said Monday their mental errors helped contribute to the 10 sacks the Jaguars allowed the Redskins. Bradley said the group responded well in practice Wednesday, and Shorts said getting the group versed in the offense and route-running enough to play instinctive doesn't happen immediately. "It's just a matter of growing up and understanding the offense," Shorts said. "Being instinctive is something you grow into and something that happens over time. That happens with the more reps you play, the more games you play. They're doing a good job of preparing each week, and maybe we prepare a little harder. When you get in the game, you have to focus. In practice, some guys will do things good, then in the game, they do something different. Don't let the game change what you do."