Sunday, September 22, 2013
Too many rookies a bad recipe for Jags
By Michael DiRocco
SEATTLE -- It was already not an ideal situation in the secondary for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But it got much worse -- and there was nothing the team could do but suffer through it.
One starting cornerback (Dwayne Gratz) was already out with a high ankle sprain. Then the other starter, Alan Ball, was ruled out in pre-game warm-ups because of a groin injury.
Starting in his first NFL game, rookie cornerback Demetrius McCray had seven tackles in the Jaguars' Week 3 loss at Seattle.
Starting safety Dwight Lowery -- the team’s most experienced defensive back -- left the game with a head injury in the first quarter. That left the Jaguars with three rookies and a waiver-wire pickup in the defensive backfield.
So it wasn’t surprising that Seattle quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson combined to throw for 323 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-17 victory or that outside receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate combined to catch 10 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
"In this style of defense you have to be able to play on the perimeter and be able to handle those shots that they took," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "There’s some inexperience back there and they’ll grow from what they had happen to them today."
It certainly wasn’t pretty, especially for corner Demetrius McCray. The Seahawks obviously targeted the Jaguars’ seventh-round draft pick early and often. He made a nice play on the first deep ball Wilson threw to Tate down the sideline, but he struggled after that.
It wasn’t surprising that he’d have trouble against veteran receivers or that the Seahawks would keep going after him. The only thing quarterbacks like better than rookie cornerbacks are limping pass rushers.
"I kind of expected it," McCray said. "Being a rookie out there, a first-time starter, I kind of had it in the back of my mind.
"There’s always going to be good and there’s always going to be bad. You’ve just got to learn from it. I’m still young. I still can learn from it. That’s the positive, because I can still learn from this game."
Lowery is in his sixth season. His replacement was Josh Evans, the Jaguars’ sixth-round draft pick. He had played mainly on special teams until Sunday. His inexperienced showed, particularly on Rice’s second touchdown catch.
Evans drifted back in coverage into the end zone and Wilson fired a pass straight at him -- in fact, replays showed Wilson reacted as if he had made a mistake by throwing the ball -- and Evans put up his hands for an easy interception. He didn’t attack the ball, though, which allowed Rice to slide in front of him for a 23-yard touchdown.
Bradley said he needed to be more aggressive going after the ball at this level than he did at Florida.
"You get put in there and you learn new things," Evans said. "That’s something that you take back and study and work on how you could make it better. I should have attacked it instead of waiting for it to drop but he made a great play on the ball and I moved on and played the next play."
The Jaguars became even more short-handed when defensive back Will Blackmon, whom the team signed on Aug. 28, left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury. That put second-year pro Mike Harris on the field.
It wasn’t all bad from the rookies, though. Safety John Cyprien, the team’s second-round draft pick, sacked Wilson on a blitz and forced a fumble the Jaguars recovered.
But he was inconsistent, too, which is what you expect from rookies. The problem is with having too many of them on the field in the secondary at one time. You can overcome that along the defensive line and at linebacker because there are players behind them to cover their mistakes. That’s not the case in the secondary and that’s what burned the Jaguars on Sunday.
"We like our youth," Bradley said. "We like their speed. But their inexperience at times comes back and at critical times can bite us."