AFC South: Uche Nwaneri

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It would be hard for the Jacksonville Jaguars to blow their first-round draft pick.

General manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have so much talent from which to choose at No. 3 that it would be hard to find fault with whatever decision they made. Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, or any of the three quarterbacks are all good options.

The same applies for the second round as well, especially if the Jaguars are going offense because Caldwell said this is a deep draft for offensive talent.

It's on the third day of the draft, however, where it gets a lot tougher. How the Jaguars perform in Rounds 4-7 will be the key to the success of the draft, Bradley said.

"I think that's where we really have to do well," Bradley said. "The first round, obviously, and the second round you have to do some things there. But this draft will be determined by how well we do in those rounds.

"Example: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, guys like that can make a big difference there. We focus on all areas, but that's an area that we've got to concentrate on, too."

Sherman (2011) and Chancellor (2010) were both fifth-round picks who developed into key members of the Seattle secondary. That's the kind of result for which the Jaguars are hoping for this year.

They've set themselves up with enough ammunition. Because of trades with Baltimore, Detroit and San Francisco, the Jaguars have eight picks in rounds 4-7, including three in fifth round. That should increase their odds of finding at least one player who could develop into a starter.

In reality, though, they're fighting against tradition. Looking back over the past 10 years of fifth-round picks by every NFL team doesn't exactly reveal a lot of success. There are some familiar names -- Sherman, Chancellor, Riley Cooper, Chris Clemons (the defensive back), Rob Ninkovich, and Brent Celek, for example -- but the majority of the picks turned into marginal players at best or were out of the league within a year or two.

The Jaguars haven't had much success with players selected in rounds 4-7 over the past decade, either. They hit on three in 2004 -- receiver Ernest Wilford (fourth), kicker Josh Scobee (fifth) and defensive end Bobby McCray (seventh) -- but since then only five players taken in those round became significant contributors: safety Gerald Sensabaugh (fifth round in 2005), guard Uche Nwaneri (fifth round in 2007), running back Rashad Jennings (seventh round in 2009), receiver Mike Thomas (fourth round in 2009) and receiver Cecil Shorts (fourth round in 2011).

It's too early to tell if any of the players taken in rounds 4-7 the past two seasons will become significant contributors, but it appears the team hit on receiver Ace Sanders (fourth round in 2013).

Bradley said the Jaguars will try to find players in those rounds that fit a specific role. Sanders, for example, was drafted to be the team's punt returner. It's the same approach they used in free agency with linebacker Dekoda Watson, a special teams standout who played situationally on defense with Tampa Bay. The Jaguars project him as a strongside linebacker on first and second downs and a leo on third down.

"For us he was intriguing. We have a spot for him," Bradley said. "We know exactly where we want to play him. That's what can happen [in] the fifth, sixth round. Hey, we really like this guy. We have a spot that he can come in and do some good things."

Find enough of those guys on the third day and Bradley will consider the draft a success.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars took the first step toward rebuilding the interior of their offensive line pretty quickly in free agency by reaching an agreement with former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles.

Beadles
The deal, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan, is worth $30 million over five years with $13 million guaranteed.

The offensive line was the Jaguars' top priority in free agency because of the retirement of center Brad Meester and the release of right guard Uche Nwaneri last week. The team obviously wanted an upgrade over Will Rackley, Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon and Drew Nowak.

It's a good move by Jaguars general manager David Caldwell. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Beadles is a tough, durable player who has started 62 of a possible 64 games in the regular season since the Broncos selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. The Broncos led the NFL in total offense and were 15th in rushing (117.1 yards per game) last season.

UPDATE: Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said Beadles was the team's primary offensive line target.

"He’s very intelligent, he’s very competitive and he’s very smart," Caldwell said. "We did a lot of work on him in Atlanta when he was coming out. He’s had a heck of a career to-date. I think he’s played in every game possible in his four years in Denver. He played in the Pro Bowl in 2012. He’s a guy with a proven track record. He’s still only 27 years old. He’s very passionate about football. I think he checks the box for everything we look for in a player and I think you guys know what that is in this culture.”

Beadles, who will play left guard, is a good fit for the Jaguars because like the Broncos they also use a zone-blocking scheme.

Interior offensive line is the Jaguars' biggest need after quarterback and pass-rusher. The group struggled early in the 2013 season with the transition to a zone-blocking scheme and the Jaguars eventually mixed back in some man-blocking schemes.

The strength of a team's running game comes from the center and two guards and those spots weren't very productive in 2013. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in rushing (78.8 yards per game) and running back Maurice Jones-Drew's 3.4 per-carry average was the worst of his career. Meester was in his 14th season and not playing at the same level as he had in the past several seasons. Nwaneri played through torn cartilage in his knee in 2012 and dealt with the lingering effects from the injury in 2013 and Rackley battled a knee injury throughout the 2013 season.

Free-agency primer: Jaguars

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: QB Chad Henne, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Will Blackmon.

Where they stand: The Jaguars’ priority is re-signing Henne, ideally before he hits the open market at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Henne has said he wants to return, and GM David Caldwell has said that re-signing Henne, improving the offensive line and adding a few weapons would help keep the offense afloat -- which seems to indicate the Jaguars are leaning toward not taking a quarterback in the first round of the draft if they re-sign Henne. Caldwell said Jones-Drew has earned the right to test the market. The Jaguars would like to bring him back, but Jones-Drew is looking for a longer contract for more money than the Jaguars are willing to offer. Blackmon was a surprise in 2013, and the Jaguars want the veteran back.

What to expect: Interior offensive line is the biggest need in free agency after the release of Uche Nwaneri earlier this week. The center pool isn’t as deep as hoped, but expect the Jaguars to target players such as Brian De La Puente, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Ryan Wendell. Cleveland put the transition tag on Alex Mack, so the Jaguars also could make a run at him but run the risk of the Browns matching the offer. There are more options at guard, and the Jaguars will target several players here, possibly Geoff Schwartz, Zane Beadles and Shelley Smith. The Jaguars also will try to find help at outside linebacker, running back and receiver.
The Jaguars’ release of right guard Uche Nwaneri on Tuesday gives a clear indication of their plan of attack in free agency.

Nwaneri
Center and guard will sit atop general manager David Caldwell’s list when the signing period begins on March 11. Nwaneri’s release and Brad Meester’s retirement mean the Jaguars have to find a new starter at each spot, and Caldwell would like to add at least another guard to make a significant upgrade to the interior of the line.

The Jaguars weren’t exactly hurting for salary-cap space, but releasing Nwaneri saves the team about $3.7 million in cap space for 2014. That gives them approximately $60 million to spend, and a good chunk of it will be devoted to the interior of the offensive line. That is the team's biggest need after quarterback and pass-rusher. The group struggled early last season with the transition to a zone-blocking scheme, and the Jaguars eventually mixed back in some man-blocking schemes.

The strength of a team’s running game comes from the center and two guards, and those spots for Jacksonville weren’t very productive in 2013. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in rushing (78.8 yards per game), and running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s 3.4 yards per carry average was the worst of his career. Meester was in his 14th season and didn't play at the same level he had the past several seasons. Nwaneri played through torn cartilage in his knee in 2012 and dealt with the lingering effects from the injury in 2013. Starting right guard Will Rackley battled a knee injury throughout the 2013 season.

The Jaguars were thought to be going to make a run at Cleveland center Alex Mack, but the Browns placed the transition tag on him earlier this week. The Jaguars could still offer him a contract, but the Browns have five days to match the offer.

Other possibilities at center include New England’s Ryan Wendell and New Orleans’ Brian De La Puente. Possible targets at guard include Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and San Diego’s Rich Ohrnberger.

The Jaguars drafted Nwaneri in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and he played in 104 games with 92 starts. He started and played every snap in 2013.

Free-agency series: Offensive line

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
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Here is the fifth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Offensive line

Who is on the roster: OT Cameron Bradfield, G/C Mike Brewster, OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, OT DeMarcus Love, G Jacques McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, G Drew Nowak, G Uche Nwaneri, OT Austin Pasztor, G Will Rackley, and OT Sam Young.

Joeckel
Analysis: Injuries hurt the unit early in the season and really impacted it late. The group struggled in the transition to a zone-blocking scheme early in the season as well, which is why the Jaguars finished the first eight games last in the NFL in rushing. Joeckel, whom the Jaguars took with the No. 2 overall pick, spent the first four weeks of the season at right tackle before moving to his natural spot at left tackle following the trade of Eugene Monroe. He played less than a quarter against St. Louis before suffering a fractured ankle, but he was handling Robert Quinn (who finished with 19.0 sacks) pretty well before he got hurt. His injury forced Bradfield and Pasztor into the lineup, and Pasztor played surprisingly well. The team is encouraged by his potential. The biggest issue is the interior of the line. Brad Meester retired, so the Jaguars need a center. Nwaneri was solid at right guard, but left guard was an issue because Rackley played hurt all season and the Jaguars could never generate much push in the middle of the line.

NFL free agents of interest: C Alex Mack, C Ryan Wendell, C Brian De La Puenta, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, and G Rich Ohrnberger.

Need meter: 9. After quarterback and leo, the interior of the offensive line is the Jaguars’ biggest need. GM David Caldwell has said the team would like to address that in free agency, and it would be a surprise if the Jaguars didn’t sign at least two starters, including a center, within the first few weeks of free agency. It’s unlikely the Jaguars would target the big names that are available, mainly because of cost, but if those players linger on the market and the price drops, the Jaguars would get involved. Even though Joeckel is talented and seemed to thrive in the very limited time he spent at left tackle, there are still questions about him, so the Jaguars might opt to add some experienced depth at tackle. Competition for roster spots on the line will be among the more interesting training camp battles.
With the NFL combine starting Wednesday, here's a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars' positions of need on offense and which prospects the team might be looking to take a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance. A look at the defense comes Tuesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the next part in the process comes this week when general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley evaluate, watch and interview prospects at the NFL combine.

Here's a breakdown of what the Jaguars need, in order, on offense and some potential targets:

Quarterback: There's no question this is the Jaguars' top need, although pass-rusher is only slightly behind. Caldwell wants to re-sign Chad Henne before free agency begins next month, but Henne is a bridge player or someone who can mentor a young quarterback and begin the season as the starter if the rookie isn't ready. The Jaguars haven't completely given up on Blaine Gabbert, either, but he's entering the final year of his contract and it would be surprising if he were re-signed after 2014.

Potential targets: Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray.

Interior offensive line: The Jaguars have to find a center to replace the retired Brad Meester and a left guard to upgrade from Will Rackley. The Jaguars will address this area in free agency as well but the team also wants to add some young talent. The Jaguars appear set at both tackles (Luke Joeckel and Austin Pasztor) and right guard Uche Nwaneri has two more years remaining on his contract. He's scheduled to make $4.775 million in each year, though, and could be a cap casualty after 2014. Mike Brewster and Jacques McClendon can play guard and center but neither appears, now anyway, to be the long-term answer. It wouldn't be surprising if the team took an interior offensive lineman in the third round, especially if the Jaguars took a quarterback earlier.

Potential targets: G Gabe Jackson, G David Yankey, G Brandon Thomas, C Marcus Martin, C Weston Richburg, C Russell Bodine.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Stephen Morton/AP PhotoThe Jaguars need to find a feature back in the event they do not re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew.
Running back: The Jaguars are more than likely going to lose Maurice Jones-Drew in free agency, which leaves them with Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, Delone Carter, and Justin Forsett on the roster. Forsett is likely going to be cut, but even if he's retained none of those players is a feature back. The Jaguars don't need to invest a high pick at this spot because good backs can be found in the later middle rounds.

Potential targets: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Mason, Lache Seastrunk, Dri Archer, Andre Williams.

Receiver: The Jaguars aren't planning on getting anything from Justin Blackmon in 2014 because they don't yet know his status, which is the correct way to approach his situation. Cecil Shorts is entering a contract year but has yet to stay healthy for a full season. Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor, Lamar Thomas, and Stephen Burton are complementary players. The Jaguars need to find a bigger, physical receiver. If they do that in free agency, this area drops to the bottom of the offensive needs list.

Potential targets: Josh Huff, Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams.

Tight end: Marcedes Lewis came on strong at the end of the season and he should be a 50-catch player in Jedd Fisch's offense if he stays healthy. After Lewis, though, there isn't much. Clay Harbor is a flex tight end but he's a free agent and the Jaguars will have to decide if they want to re-sign him. Danny Noble is raw and needs more work. The Jaguars want a bigger tight end who can line up next to Lewis in two-tight-end formations.

Potential targets: Marcel Jensen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Crockett Gilmore, Jake Murphy.
Each day this week I'll provide an answer to a key question facing the Jaguars in the offseason.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars are projected to be roughly $50 million under the salary cap in 2014, so GM David Caldwell doesn't have to worry about re-negotiating any deals or cutting high-priced players to fit under the cap.

Posluszny
Lewis
But that doesn't mean the Jaguars don't have any out-of-whack salaries. They certainly do, and it begins with linebacker Paul Posluszny.

Posluszny is scheduled to count $9.5 million against the cap in 2014. Though he has been the Jaguars' best defensive player since he signed a six-year deal with the team in 2011 and is coming off his first Pro Bowl, that's a pretty significant cap number for a middle linebacker. In fact, he'll be the Jaguars' highest-paid player in 2014.

That's not much of an issue now because the Jaguars don't have a high-paid quarterback, receiver or defensive back to worry about within the next few years. But Posluszny will count $9.5 million against the cap in 2015 and $7.5 million against the cap in 2016 and those are numbers that are too high and it's likely the team will try to re-work the deal at some point after 2014.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis will be the Jaguars' second-highest paid player in 2014 with a cap number of $8.35 million. It appeared during the 2013 season that Lewis would be a cap casualty because he missed nearly six full games with a calf injury and really didn't make much of an impact in the passing game when he did return. But he was certainly a weapon over the final five games, catching 16 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch got Lewis more involved over the final five weeks and with a full season in the lineup Lewis could reach 50 catches in 2014.

Even so, it'd be a surprise if Lewis were back in 2015 because he is scheduled to count $8.3 million against the cap and that's a lot of money to invest in a tight end not named Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski.

Other players with high cap numbers in 2014 are defensive end Jason Babin ($6.175 million), right guard Uche Nwaneri ($5.894 million) and receiver Justin Blackmon ($5.048 million). Babin led the Jaguars with 7.5 sacks in 2013 but he's making elite defensive end money and he's not an elite defensive end. He has said he'd be willing to re-negotiate his contract because he likes it in Jacksonville, but he also can declare himself a free agent because of a clause in the new CBA.

It'd be a surprise if Babin is on the roster in 2014 under his current contract.

Blackmon is under an indefinite suspension and won't count against the cap unless he is reinstated. He can apply to commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement before the 2014 season begins.
Each day for the next two weeks we'll review how each position group performed in 2013, and take an early look at 2014. Today we'll examine the offensive line. We did quarterbacks on Monday running backs on Tuesday, tight ends Wednesday, and wide receivers on Thursday. We will do the defense next week.

Offensive line

Breakdown of starts: C Brad Meester (16), G Uche Nwaneri (16), T Austin Pasztor (12), T Cameron Bradfield (11), G Will Rackley (11), T Luke Joeckel (5), T Eugene Monroe (4), G Mike Brewster (3), G Jacques McClendon (2).

Recap: The Jaguars finished 31st in rushing (78.8 yards per game) and gave up the second-most sacks in the league (50). All the blame for those poor stats doesn't fall on the offensive line, but a good bit does. Injuries played a large role because several players started the season banged up and three ended up finishing the season on IR.

Only two players who started the season opener were in the starting lineup for the season finale: Meester and Nwaneri.

The group really struggled in the first month adjusting to the new zone-blocking scheme and it wasn't until Monroe was traded that things started to get better. The timing was a bit unusual because Monroe is regarded as one of the better young tackles in the game and Joeckel lasted less than a half at left tackle because of a season-ending ankle injury.

Nwaneri and Rackley were banged up with knee issues early in the season but as they got healthier the middle of the line played better.

The biggest surprise, though, was the play of Pasztor. Bradfield had started 12 games at right tackle in 2012 so he was experienced enough to handle things at left tackle after Joeckel got injured. Pasztor had started just three games at left guard as a rookie in 2012 but he did a solid job at right tackle over the final 12 games of the season. He was promising enough that coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell are willing to give him a further look at that spot to see if he can develop into the team's answer at right tackle.

Rackley missed the final four games because of a concussion. Brewster was supposed to be his replacement but he suffered a fractured ankle as well and that forced McClendon into the lineup.

Looking ahead to 2014

Players under contract: Nwaneri, Joeckel, Rackley, Brewster, McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, C Patrick Lewis, G Drew Nowak, T DeMarcus Love, C Matt Stankiewitch.

The skinny: The top priority is finding a center because Meester retired after 14 seasons. It may be someone already on the roster -- McClendon also can snap -- but it also may be someone the Jaguars sign in free agency (Cleveland's Alex Mack is regarded as the top center that could be a free agent).

Upgrading at left guard and making sure things are settled at right tackle are on the list as well. Pasztor may end up being the starter against but he has to show progress and prove he can handle the quicker rushers.

There are still questions about Joeckel. He looked good in his first game at left tackle (his natural position), but he was only on the field for less than a half before he got injured. He should be healthy in time for OTAs.

The Jaguars are likely going to add several free agents and draft picks in the interior. The run game has to improve and that starts with the center and guards.
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When the call came in from the sideline, Jaguars center Brad Meester got nervous.

But not because he was going to get a chance to score a touchdown in his final game at EverBank Field in front of his family.

He was worried he would embarrass himself in front of 60,559 people.

"The thing that ran through my head was, 'Don't drop the ball,'" Meester said following the Jaguars 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans. "I knew I would catch a lot of flak if I got open one time in my life and I dropped the ball. That was the one thing I was focusing on is catching it."

You can understand his uneasiness. Offensive linemen don’t get to catch passes or score touchdowns very often. Tackles sometimes do when they line up as extra tight ends. But centers never do.

Until Sunday, when offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and head coach Gus Bradley decided to give Meester a shot as a way to say “thank you” for being a vital part of the Jaguars franchise for the past 14 seasons. They put the play -- called Pass 5 Weak Screen to Brad -- in the game plan and practiced it all week.

On second-and-8 from the Tennessee 13-yard line late in the first quarter, they called it.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Brad Meester
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackCenter Brad Meester made his first NFL catch in the final home game of his 14-year Jaguars' career.
Left guard Jacques McClendon moved to center and Drew Nowak, who was just activated from the practice squad this week, went in at left guard. Meester lined up to the right of tackle Austin Pasztor.

He went about 3 yards down field, turned around, and caught the pass from Chad Henne, just like he had done all week. Every time they practiced the play he caught it. Not a single drop. Even if he had been tackled immediately he would have been a hero to his linemen teammates.

"Have you seen his hands?" Pasztor said. "His fingers are all bent every which way. It is remarkable that he can hold onto the ball."

The rest of the play was an example of why offensive linemen don’t catch passes. Meester ran into the back of right guard Uche Nwaneri, tried to juke a defender, and cut inside instead of outside, where Pasztor was waiting to make a block. Had he done that, he may have scored.

"He’s a lineman. You think he’s going to see that?" Nwaneri said. "He’s just like, ‘RUN! RUN!' That’s how I would have been."

Meester admitted he maybe sort of panicked.

"I couldn't figure out what to do," he said. "Am I going outside? Am I going inside? Is he moving? I stuck there for a while and finally went inside, and there were a couple of guys waiting for me."

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew said he probably would have cut outside.

"Yeah it was [free outside] but his speed and my speed are a little different," he said. "I think he’s running 7s not 4s."

Jones-Drew, though, is partly to blame. At no time this past week did he give Meester any tips on reading blocks. It’s not like that’s something an offensive lineman is supposed to know.

"If you ask Drew [Nowak] he would say he played running back so he’d probably tell you he does know how to read blocks," Pasztor said. "I think the majority of us probably don’t."

Meester eventually was tackled after a 9-yard gain, giving the Jaguars a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line. Henne hit Marcedes Lewis on the next play for a touchdown.

Meester wasn’t bummed about not getting to score. He said it’s a play he’ll always remember, not only because it was a chance to live out every offensive lineman’s dream but because it was a sign of how the coaching staff and franchise feels about him. He’ll also never forget the crowd after the play, either.

"It also meant a lot when after the catch they started cheering, ‘Meester.’" He said. "That was pretty cool. I never had anything like that happen in my life, except maybe at the house."

Had he scored, though, it would have been pandemonium, Jones-Drew said.

"The whole team was ready to get a penalty so it was kind of good that he didn’t score because I think everyone was going to run on the field if he got in," Jones-Drew said. "The bench probably would have emptied."

The catch, as it no doubt will go down as in Meester’s household, was part of a bigger tribute to the 14-year veteran, who announced earlier this week that this will be his final season. He was the only Jaguars player introduced before the game and the team held an on-field ceremony after the game in which he and his family were presented with four framed No. 63 jerseys.

That was a fitting tribute to a player who owns the franchise record for most games played and started (208) and the two longest streaks of consecutive starts (92 and 89). Meester was grateful for the pregame and postgame honors and for Bradley and Fisch giving him a chance to live every offensive lineman’s dream.

"I didn't break down and cry," Meester said. "I did get emotional. It was an emotional time. It really started to get me when I went out for pregame warm-up. I could hear people yelling at me and I could see some signs out there. That was awesome. I never had a sign for myself and there were several.

"There was even a Fat Head out there, which my kids have outside and are excited about."

Probably more than had their dad scored a touchdown.

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

December, 19, 2013
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Shorts joins Jones-Drew on iffy list

December, 12, 2013
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars were already unsure of Maurice Jones-Drew's status for Sunday's game against Buffalo, and now receiver Cecil Shorts may not play, either.

Shorts
Jones-Drew (hamstring) and Shorts (groin) have not practiced all week and are expected to test their injuries on Friday, but coach Gus Bradley said there's a chance a decision on their chances of playing may not be made until just before kickoff.

"I think they're both very questionable," Bradley said Thursday. "We've got our fingers crossed on both of them."

Shorts has been battling a groin injury for much of the season and has managed it by not practicing on Wednesdays and being limited on Thursdays. That schedule got thrown off last week because the Jaguars played Houston on Thursday night and that wasn't sufficient time to rest his groin from the previous Sunday's game against Cleveland.

Jones-Drew
He played against the Texans but left the game late because of the pain. He's hoping the extra three days of rest between that game and Sunday's game against the Bills will be enough to allow his groin to improve.

"I've been dealing with it all year," Shorts said. "It's not getting better; it's getting worse.

"I think I'm going to go out there tomorrow and get some reps and stuff. We'll see how it feels tomorrow and then [make a] game-time decision as Gus said. If I'm able to play, I'm playing. No doubt about it. I have no problem dealing with pain but when it comes to your [groin] area, it's a little different."

Shorts leads the Jaguars in receptions (66), yards (77), and receiving touchdowns (three). If he is unable to play, Bradley said Kerry Taylor would start in his place. Taylor was signed on Nov. 4 from Arizona's practice squad and has caught three passes for 27 yards in four games.

Taylor would also be the team's kick returner if Jones-Drew is unable to play because regular kick returner Jordan Todman would start for Jones-Drew.

A third starter, safety Johnathan Cyprien, also did not practice Thursday because of a thigh injury. Bradley said he feels the best about Cyprien's chances of playing than any of the other injured players. Cyprien has started every game at strong safety this season and is second on the team with 83 tackles.

Defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder) and linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) also did not practice on Thursday because they were given the day off to rest their injuries. They are expected to play Sunday.

Safety Josh Evans (shoulder), guard Uche Nwaneri (shoulder), offensive tackle Austin Pasztor (shoulder), safety Chris Prosinski (concussion), and kicker Josh Scobee (left hip) were limited.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are having different results on game days, but everything has stayed the same during the week.

Same level of preparation, same mindset, same chemistry. Nothing has changed from that standpoint the entire season. It is the same now as it was when the Jaguars were 0-2, 0-4, 0-8, and coach Gus Bradley wants it to remain that way for the final three weeks.

"We had some adversity, and now we’re having a little prosperity," said Bradley, whose team has won four of its last five games. "My hope is we treat both the same. I’ve said it to our team, 'Treat both impostors the same.' That’s going to be the challenge. But I’m sure we’ll make some mistakes. We made some mistakes on how we handled adversity, and we’ll make some mistakes on some of these things that will be coming our way. But it will be good teachings for us."

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesDespite the Jaguars' turnaround, coach Gus Bradley has told his players not to change their attitude.
It would have been logical for the Jaguars to change their practice habits, what they practice, their schemes, how they conduct meetings, how the players and coaches interact with each other, and how the players behave in the locker room. The way they were doing things wasn’t working in the first two months of the season, when the Jaguars lost all eight games by double digits.

It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If something isn’t working, you change it.

Not the Jaguars. Bradley stressed the importance of trusting the process, telling players to believe in the schemes and what the coaching staff was doing. Keep doing that and eventually the victories will come. Now that they have, it’s a validation of the approach and, Bradley hopes, a clear message that the players shouldn’t change now.

"We’ve had some success in some games, and what I’m monitoring is, do we have the same mindset?" Bradley said. "We should. Our whole objective is to … just go about what we do and remember what got us to this point and stay true to it."

The players have completely bought in. Receiver Cecil Shorts says the players have approached everything the same way in the five games since the bye as they did in the first eight. The results obviously have them feeling better about themselves, though.

"We don’t want to be boastful," Shorts said. “We don’t want to be, ‘Hey, you guys are dogging us and then we win three games straight.’ No, we want to stay humble, eat crumbs [and] understand that success always under construction. Understand we’ve got work to do, but if we’re going to talk about something, talk about how we need to improve, how we need to get better."

To drive home his point about treating prosperity and adversity the same, Bradley used a scenario about walking down the street and seeing two men sitting on a bench. One is well-dressed. The other isn’t. Do you say hello to both of them or only to the one who is well-dressed, he asked the players.

You should, he said after listening to their answers, treat them both the same because they deserve to be treated that way.

Guard Uche Nwaneri said the players got the message, and he hasn’t seen any change in their approach.

"It doesn’t matter whether you’re successful or whether you’re not successful," Nwaneri said. "You have to go about doing things the same way. You can’t change it because you’re on one side of the spectrum or the other.

"I haven’t seen anybody acting any differently because we’re so used doing what we’ve been doing because even when we weren’t winning we still were doing the same thing. You’re kind of stuck in your routine at that point and you’re just focused on the small details that are going help you take it to the next level."

These Jaguars are no longer a joke

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
2:30
AM ET
Marcedes LewisAP Photo/Chris O'MearaMarcedes Lewis and the Jaguars have won three in a row and four out of five since their bye week.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Go ahead, Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri said, make jokes now.

Bring on the snide remarks about 0-16 and being one of the worst teams in NFL history.

He's waiting ...

He knows nobody's going to have much -- if anything -- to say, not after Thursday night's 27-20 victory over Houston in front of 60,414 at EverBank Field. That was the Jaguars' third win in a row, which Nwaneri said proves they're no longer the joke they were in the first half of the season.

"Everybody who was talking noise can just eat some crow real quick," he said.

The Jaguars (4-9) are the hottest team in the AFC, having won four of their five games since the bye week. The fact that none of the teams they've beaten has a winning record and one, the Texans, has lost 11 in a row, is irrelevant. The Jaguars are winning games, which is something that looked darn near impossible in the first month of the season.

They scored just two points in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. They lost their first eight games all by double digits. They didn't score a touchdown at EverBank Field until Nov. 17.

They're starting three rookies in the secondary. They don't have their best receiver, who was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy for a third time.

The Jaguars were a mess. They were hopeless. They were a joke.

And boy did people pile on. The season's first month wasn't even over before NFL analysts were comparing the Jaguars to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only teams in the NFL's modern era to go winless. The players answered those questions openly and honestly, but they were angry inside.

Thursday was another vindication.

"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "We tried to tune it out but when the media asks that or tweets that we're going to draft so-and-so every day, it's hard to get out of your mind.

"But we did a good job of staying the course and things are really paying off. But we've got a long way to go. Our goal is to get better each and every day."

They've done that since the bye week. Especially defensively, improving their run defense from 161.8 yards per game allowed in the first eight games to 70.8 yards per game allowed over the past five.

But more important, they're making plays in crucial situations. Their first two touchdowns against the Texans came on third down -- Chad Henne's 1-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis and Henne's 6-yard pass to Shorts -- and the third came on a well-designed trick play. Henne threw a lateral to receiver Ace Sanders, who lofted a 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Cecil Shorts
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," said Cecil Shorts of the chatter surrounding the Jaguars' 0-8 start.
While Matt Schaub and Case Keenum combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns, the Jaguars made two key interceptions. Alan Ball picked off Keenum late in the first half, and that led to Josh Scobee's 40-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead.

Linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted Matt Schaub with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the game, and that led to Scobee's 39-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.

They weren't making those plays in the first half of the season. Heck, they weren't even in position to make those plays.

But coach Gus Bradley never wavered in his message to the team. He told the players to trust in their preparation, trust in what the coaching staff was asking them to do, and trust that if they did those things the results would eventually be positive.

It was hard, for sure, because for so long the results did not come. But Bradley was so strong that the players stayed with him. They never doubted.

Then came a 29-27 victory at Tennessee on Nov. 10. Two weeks later, the Jaguars beat the host Texans 13-6. On Sunday, they beat the host Cleveland Browns 32-28. Then Thursday night.

"We talked a couple weeks ago about it validates what we're doing," Bradley said. "It really is a credit to our players for what they've gone through and to stick to it and have some results go their way, it's pretty cool."

Now the Jaguars are no longer a mess. In fact, their recent run has -- believe it or not -- kept them alive in the playoff race. It's obviously a ridiculously small chance, but the fact that they're still alive after the horrendous 0-8 start means they deserve respect, not ridicule.

"That just lets you know that all the analysts and people who [are] so-called professionals and geniuses don't know what they're talking about," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "It's the NFL. Any given Sunday any team can go out and beat any team."

That's no joke.

Light day boosts Jaguars run game

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
6:45
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HOUSTON -- Guard Uche Nwaneri credits the Jacksonville Jaguars' success on the ground on Sunday to an easier-than-normal Wednesday.

Because of a large number of banged-up players, coach Gus Bradley decided to forgo the normal full-pads practice and instead the players worked in shells. Nwaneri said the lighter day helped the offensive line get a better grasp on the game plan and Houston's defensive front and that was the main reason the Jaguars ran for a season-high 118 yards against the Texans.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/David J. PhillipMaurice Jones-Drew had his best rushing day of the season with 84 yards on 14 carries.
"Being able to see what was going on at a slower pace, being able to read what was going on with the defense in practice at a slower pace actually allowed us to be a little bit more aware on game day," Nwaneri said shortly after the Jaguars' 13-6 victory at Reliant Stadium. "It just helped our preparation being able to kind of back off a little bit on the physicality and be able to really get the game locked in from a mental standpoint."

That may sound a little hokey, but you can't argue with the results. Bradley said the offensive line, which has struggled all season with the transition from a gap-blocking scheme to a zone-blocking scheme, had its most consistent day -- and because of that Maurice Jones-Drew had his best day of the season. He ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and added six catches for 60 yards for a season-high 144 total yards.

"Blocking was phenomenal," Jones-Drew said. "First couple of weeks we were having trouble kind of getting it right and this new running scheme was a little different. As the weeks went on, we're getting better. Right now we're playing our highest in the run game."

That might be a bit of hyperbole considering the Jaguars (2-9) ran for just 32 yards in a loss to Arizona last week, but a big difference from the previous 10 games was the fact that they were finally able to produce a big run. The Jaguars had just three runs of 20 or more yards, including a long of 30, but Jones-Drew busted a 44-yarder in the second quarter on Sunday to kick-start a drive that ended with Josh Scobee's 30-yard field goal to put the Jaguars ahead 10-0.

"That's the key," center Brad Meester said. "We look at that every week. You look at a lot of the teams out there that rush for a lot of yards, most of them are only one-, two-yard gains, it's just you're able to get those explosive runs and we had just kind of missed that in the last few weeks. We were able to get some more explosive this week."

The Jaguars also mixed up the run game against the Texas, partly to run away from defensive end J.J. Watt. They ran the ball outside more than in previous weeks (Jones-Drew's long run came off left tackle). Jordan Todman was also involved, carrying the ball a career-high 11 times for 31 yards. He had 20 carries in the first 10 games.

"Mixing up inside zone, outside zone, our gap scheme ... our offensive line is doing a great job," Jones-Drew said. "I think there was one run where I didn't get touched until I got tackled."

That was his 44-yard run, and Nwaneri said it felt for a moment like 2011, when Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing.

"It was that old familiar feeling seeing him get to the edge and get up field and pick up 30, 40 yards running on one play," Nwaneri said. "That's what he does and I think we were able to do some more things coming downhill at them and that opened up some more lanes for us and other plays. It was just a good group effort."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' offense hasn't had any trouble starting fast the last two weeks.

It's the rest of the game that has been the problem.

It happened in a 29-27 victory over Tennessee on Nov. 10 but the Jaguars were able to hang on and get their first victory over the season. They couldn't overcome it against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at EverBank Field, however, and lost 27-14.

[+] EnlargeDespite a strong first quarter, Chad Henne and the Jacksonville offense could not score for the rest of the game.
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesChad Henne
The Jaguars scored two touchdowns -- their first at EverBank this season -- and racked up 111 yards in the first quarter. But penalties, an injury to an already-depleted receiving corps, and the lack of a running game crushed the early momentum. The result was the ninth loss of the season and sixth consecutive loss at EverBank Field.

"After those scores we struggled," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We had quite a few three-and-outs. I know we had some second-and-longs, some penalties that showed up in the second half, a couple interceptions. We've got to overcome that. We've really got to continue to challenge our guys to step up and make plays."

The Jaguars (1-9) managed just two first downs in the second quarter and two more in the third. They managed just 163 yards in the final three quarters and 58 came after the Cardinals took a 24-14 lead. Why such a poor performance?

Penalties hurt. A false start on third-and-8 by receiver Ace Sanders in the second quarter. Early in the fourth, center Brad Meester and guard Uche Nwaneri had false starts on the same drive. A holding penalty on tackle Cameron Bradfield wiped out a 21-yard reception by Maurice Jones-Drew.

The running game was non-existent, too. That's not surprising considering the Cardinals entered the day with the NFL's third-ranked rush defense, but Jones-Drew and the offensive line really struggled. The Jaguars ran for just 32 yards on 16 carries and Jones-Drew ran 14 times for 23 yards, which is the second-lowest total of his career in games in which he's had double-digit carries.

The Jaguars were already short at receiver with the suspension of Justin Blackmon and Stephen Burton missing the game with a concussion, but Mike Brown left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury. That meant the Jaguars had to use Kerry Taylor, whom the team claimed off waivers from Arizona on Nov. 4, in a bigger role.

Sanders, Brown, Taylor and tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor were pretty much quarterback Chad Henne's only options because No. 1 receiver Cecil Shorts was being shadowed by Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. Until the final four minutes of the game, Henne targeted Shorts just once. In those final four minutes, Henne threw to Shorts four times.

Shorts was clearly frustrated.

"There was opportunities throughout the game I should have been involved in," Shorts said. "But, you know, it is what it is. I can't control what the … We can do better as an offense."

Henne wasn't particularly effective, either. Though he completed 27 of 42 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown, he threw two interceptions and didn't challenge the Arizona secondary. As noted, he didn't look for Shorts until the game was well in hand and there were instances where he was open against Peterson.

He settled for shorter passes too often, too, especially on several third downs. It seemed as if he was overly concerned with Peterson and safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It was tough," Henne said. "Patrick Peterson's a great corner and we knew we were going to have some problems with him. But Cecil, I thought, in some of his one-on-one routes did some really good things with it. They were playing a high safety. Their guys up front are good pass rushers, so we wanted to get the ball out quick, get it out on time, and I think we definitely accomplished some of that."

It was a typical Henne game. Several good throws, several bad, and a mixture of safe stuff. But he couldn't lead the offense to any points despite starting possessions at his own 40, the Arizona 42, midfield, and his own 42. Punt, punt, punt, interception.

"Field position was outstanding," Bradley said. "We had a couple times we started on the 50 and there in. Those we have to come away with some points. We have to. Even if it's a field goal, to get it down there inside the 35. We took a sack on one. We were on the 36 yard line, the 38-yard line, trying to get it to the 35, we take a sack. Throw it away and give it a chance. We'll continue to grow on those decisions."

It's not all on Henne, Shorts said.

"I felt like we had a lot of momentum at the beginning of the game," said Shorts, who caught just two passes for 22 yards. "We had penalties. When we're in their territory we need to at least get three points. We're on their side of the 50, we can't have a penalty, first-and-15, and we get a positive play, then another penalty, first-and-20. We can't have stuff like that. We need to at least get three every time we're in their territory. We've just got to do better. We need to execute."

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