JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics as Jaguars-Colts nears, including WR Marqise Lee, QB Blake Bortles and defending Andrew Luck
1.Potential for a big finish.If many eyes are on Marqise Lee in the coming weeks, at least one Jaguars teammate believes he is capable of handling the scrutiny. Veteran receiver Cecil Shorts III this week said Lee is prepared to handle an increased role, adding that the second-round rookie from the University of Southern California has as much natural ability as any Jaguars wide receiver in recent seasons – with the exception, perhaps, of suspended receiver Justin Blackmon. Shorts also reiterated what he and Head Coach Gus Bradley have said in recent weeks – that Lee has had his best practices of the season in recent weeks and appears ready for the additional repetitions he'll likely receive with fellow rookie Allen Robinson on injured reserve with a stress fracture in his right foot. "He can definitely progress and do very well here," Shorts said of Lee, who has 13 receptions for 141 yards in seven games this season. "I'm excited to see him do well in the next six weeks. We all know he'd like to have more yards, more catches or what not. These next few weeks could be very big for him. We're all excited for him. Even if he doesn't, he's going to be a great player down the line."
2.Mr. Maneuver.Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in three seasons has emerged as one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks for many reasons, but to opposing defensive linemen, a major reason is he's just so difficult to tackle. While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is often lauded for extending plays, Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller said escapability and play-extension are what makes Luck and the Colts' offense so effective, too. "He has great instincts in the pocket," Miller said. "He's a big guy, so it's hard to judge how you're going to tackle him. If you come at anyone like that the wrong way, they've got an opportunity to spin, all kinds of things. He's not scared to get hit, so we have to find a way to get to him." Miller called Luck one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL. "He does a great job getting that offense into plays he likes and managing the receivers. He has a great ability to extend plays, which also helps with those dynamic receivers. I think that offense is perfect for him."
3.Moving pieces on the second level.The Jaguars' linebacker scenario coming out of the bye isn't ideal. Injuries first to Paul Posluszny and then to Jeremiah George have cut the options at middle linebacker, and the bye-week release of Otto linebacker Dekoda Watson has left that position thin. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday the team could use Geno Hayes, J.T. Thomas and Telvin Smith at the same time, a combination the team has yet to use this season. Smith in that scenario likely would play the weak side with Thomas remaining in the middle, a spot he has said he prefers. Thomas also started five games this season at the Otto position. Ideally, the Jaguars would start George in the middle with Thomas at the Otto, Hayes on the weak side and Smith playing extensively in nickel situations, but George isn't expected to return until at least next week against the Giants. With the Colts' tight ends historically effective in recent seasons against the Jaguars, it's an area to watch come Sunday.
4.Perspective, please.Anytime a NFL player has off-field issues involving law enforcement it's going to make news, and that news is never positive. And when cornerback Dwayne Gratz was arrested in Miami Beach over the weekend, Bradley understandably a day later said the situation was not good and that it would be addressed internally. At the same time, this is clearly a situation when the transgression is not severe enough to be held against Gratz for the long term. That's not to say being arrested is a positive, but Gratz was not behind the wheel of a car and not endangering others. He made a significant error in judgment, but what Gratz did is the worst any of us do … well, let's just say the world will probably be OK. Gratz apologized to teammates Wednesday, and is expected to start Sunday against the Colts. Considering the severity of the offense, having him miss game time would have been extreme.
5.The right approach.Confidence in Blake Bortles in the locker room remains high, and his approach and confidence remain a big reason. While the rookie quarterback has struggled with interceptions this season, and while he is dealing with defensive coordinators game-planning to take away his strengths, teammates said he continues carry himself as he must – like the leader of the team, a player who believes in his abilities and a guy who handles himself with poise in adversity. "He's done an excellent job," veteran backup quarterback Chad Henne said. "I always thought of myself as being low-key and not letting a lot affect me. This guy, I think he's better than me (in that area). He comes to the sideline, very perky and upright. He says, 'Hey, did that look good?' or, 'Yeah, that probably wasn't so good,' but he lets a lot of stuff go by and it doesn't affect him inside. But mostly, he wants to be so good and help this organization win. That's what's so great about him, that he has such a drive and he wants to keep getting better and winning for this team."