Sunday, September 15, 2013
Jaguars not using injuries as an excuse
By Michael DiRocco
OAKLAND, Calif. -- It’s a legitimate excuse, but Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts doesn't want to hear it.
In fact, he’s upset at just the thought of anyone inside the locker room using it.
It doesn’t matter to him that by the time the Jaguars’ 19-9 loss to the Oakland Raiders concluded the team was down five offensive starters -- including running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who left the game in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle. The result is what counts, regardless of which players are on the field.
Whether it is Jones-Drew or Jordan Todman carrying the ball, Justin Blackmon or Stephen Burton catching passes, plays have to be made, he said.
"It’s the NFL, man," Shorts said. "You’re here for a reason. You’ve got to go out there and make the plays at hand. Of course we can’t replace Mojo and Marcedes [Lewis] but we’ve got to go out there and continue to fight. We can’t use that as excuses. That’s weak-minded. That’s something we’re not going to do."
But being short-handed is a valid reason for why the Jaguars have struggled on offense this season, especially when the players missing are some of the team’s top playmakers.
Justin Blackmon, the team’s top receiver (64 catches last season), still has two more games to serve on a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Lewis, who has caught at least 52 passes in two of the last three seasons and is one of the league’s better blocking tight ends, has yet to play a snap in the regular season because of a calf injury.
Mike Brown, whose role is more important because of Blackmon’s absence, missed Sunday’s game with a back injury. And he needs as much playing time as he can get since he’s a converted college quarterback who has played in just three games in his career.
Jones-Drew is the Jaguars’ best offensive player even though he has gotten off to a slow start (72 yards on 25 carries).
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has yet to establish himself as a legitimate starter in the league, but he did beat out Chad Henne in the preseason and one of the goals of this season is finding out if he can become a franchise quarterback.
So, 248 yards against the Raiders -- 128 of which came in the fourth quarter when the game was pretty much decided -- and only one touchdown in two weeks is sort of understandable.
But not, as Shorts and several other players emphasized, an excuse for being 0-2, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry, and punting 19 times in two games.
"When Adrian Peterson goes down what are you going to do next?" asked Henne, who completed 25 of 38 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown against the Raiders. "Every team’s the same. The next guy just has to be prepared to step in there and make some plays. We have to count on everybody. Everybody has to be accountable and make a play when they’re in there."
The problem is that the replacements really haven’t. Jacksonville's tight ends have caught nine passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, but most of that has come in the fourth quarter when the games have been determined.
Shorts has been targeted 25 times in two games and has caught 11 for 133 yards. The rest of the receivers -- Ace Sanders, Brown, Jeremy Ebert and Stephen Burton -- have combined to catch 12 passes. Ebert was called up from the practice squad on Saturday and Burton was one of seven players the Jaguars claimed off waivers on Sept. 1.
Tom Brady has spent most of his career throwing to average or below-average receivers and produced great offensive numbers. That’s not going to work for the Jaguars, though.
Yet, coach Gus Bradley remains upbeat about the situation, mainly because he knows it should improve soon with the return of Lewis and Blackmon.
"How I look at it is I think with those guys being out this is a great opportunity to develop those [inexperienced] guys," he said. "And when we all come back we’ll be that much stronger if we do this right. But that doesn’t take care of it for right now.
"We’re not waiting to be successful or do things right till they come back. We all want to get better right now. That’s the challenge. I believe in those guys in the locker room."