- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis is on track to make his season debut on Sunday after missing the first three games with a calf injury.
His return will certainly boost the passing game by giving quarterback Blaine Gabbert a reliable target in the middle of the field. But it also will be a huge help in the run game, as well, and that’s where the Jaguars have really struggled so far in 2013.
"Everyone knows what he can do in the passing game," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "What a lot of people underestimate about him is his ability in the run game to block defensive ends and linebackers. He is a guy that we’ve missed."
The 6-foot-6, 272-pound Lewis has caught 272 passes for 3,224 yards and 21 touchdowns in the first seven years of his career. He has a pair of 50-catch seasons and his most productive season came in 2010 when he caught 58 passes for 700 yards and a team-record 10 touchdowns.
His work as a blocker, however, is just as significant. He is regarded as one of the league’s best blocking tight ends and was an integral part of the success that Jones-Drew had in 2011, when he led the league with 1,606 yards rushing.
The Jaguars have struggled to run the ball this season, ranking 30th in yards per game (52.0) and last in yards per attempt (2.4). Jones-Drew has gained only 115 yards in three games and is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry -- a full two yards shy of his career average.
The main reason is the play of the interior of the offensive line. Guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley and center Brad Meester have been pushed around and failed to consistently open holes. Lewis’ return will help because he can seal the edge and also move around to assist on either side.
"Obviously we’re going to do some things to where I’m able to help out a little bit," Lewis said. "But we’re still going to get me out there so I can make some plays down the field."
The Jaguars have had a little more success through the air, although most of the damage has come in the second half when the games have essentially been decided. Lewis, who was limited in practice on Wednesday, will help take some attention away from receiver Cecil Shorts, who has 13 of his 16 receptions in the last two games in the second half.
The other Jaguars receivers -- Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Stephen Burton -- have a combined 24 career catches. They haven’t developed a level of trust with Gabbert yet, but Lewis has and his return should boost the passing game production.
"He’s another target and he’s a familiar target," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. "Sometimes there is some benefit to having that familiar target and a trustworthy target.
"…I think for sure he’ll help our running game. I don’t think there’s been any doubt about his ability to run block and I think that in itself will help us."