JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Marcedes Lewis couldn’t let another lackluster practice by the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense pass without the veteran tight end gathering his cohorts for an impromptu meeting.
So while Wednesday was scheduled to be a day off for him, just like it was for starting offensive linemen Eugene Monroe and Uche Nwaneri, Lewis chose to instead back up his words by going through a limited number of reps in practice.
The Jaguars didn’t exactly light things up Friday night in their preseason opener, a 27-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins. That lethargic showing, coupled with a host of mistakes Tuesday, caused Lewis’ conscience to kick in. Whether that verbal kick in the pants will have an effect over the long term remains to be seen, but Jaguars coach Gus Bradley went out of his way to compliment the receivers on running crisper pass routes to help both Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne look noticeably more accurate.
“It’s imperative that we’re on the same page if the offense is going to move like we want it to,” Lewis said. “We missed some throws yesterday that we should be making with our eyes closed. I just wanted to get the plays that I needed.”
A decision is expected to be made before practice Thursday on whether Gabbert or Henne will start Saturday night when the Jaguars face a team embroiled in its own quarterback controversy, the New York Jets. Gabbert’s five completions against the Dolphins were good for a paltry 19 yards, but he hit on 10 passes in a row in a combination of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills Wednesday during a practice that running back Maurice Jones-Drew described as “phenomenal.”
The return this week of last year’s first-round pick, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, has helped to an extent. But while Blackmon was activated from the physically unable to perform list, Cecil Shorts III remains sidelined by a strained left calf. And while neither Monroe nor Nwaneri were banged up, rookie tackle Luke Joeckel missed his third practice in a row with a hip flexor injury.
“Obviously we have important pieces that are out for one reason or another,” Lewis said. “But nobody cares about that. Our opponents don’t care. The fans don’t care. We’ve still got to perform. With the kind of offense we have, our guys can just be plugged in and be in that spot. It’s not necessarily like, ‘Oh my gosh, such-and-such is out.’ It can’t be that way. And in the past, I feel like it was that way. Guys would get hurt, and for some one or another, we’d lose a leg of our offense.”
“He was right in saying that we had a bad practice,” Jones-Drew said. “I think a lot of guys took it to heart. Now the question is are we going to take that next step tomorrow.”
Lewis was a Pro Bowl selection in 2010 but failed to score a touchdown the following year, when Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing. He bounced back with better statistics last season but would prefer to forget the Jaguars’ 2-14 finish as soon as possible.
“All I care about is the coaches that we have in this room right now and the direction that we’re moving in,” he said. “And where we’re going, a practice like yesterday’s can’t be swept under the rug, period.”
With center Brad Meester and guard Will Rackley being the only first-string linemen practicing, and with Shorts reduced to being a spectator, it wasn’t easy to tell at times when Gabbert and Henne were working with what could be classified as the starters. Bradley remains steadfast in believing his evaluation of them, as well as Mike Kafka and Matt Scott, is based on more than attempts and completions.
“There is so much that is involved in this other than the things that are classic to the human eye,” he said. “So we’re evaluating all of that. I really want to see if they can calm their minds down and just go out there and execute. And I see them getting better and better with that. That’s why I was excited about today.”
Jones-Drew, who is expected to see action against the Jets, shared that excitement.
“It seemed like guys were where they needed to be,” he said. “The ball was where it needed to be. Guys were making catches, turning up, running. We were able to run the ball well and had some great lanes to run through.”
But when it came time for the offense to set up in the red zone, it was not Gabbert or Henne but Scott who provided the only touchdown on a pass to Jamal Miles. So the defense remains ahead of the offense not quite three weeks after the start of training camp. Jones-Drew has been especially impressed with cornerback Alan Ball, going so far as to suggest that the free-agent signing by way of the Houston Texans has been the MVP of the Jaguars’ camp.
“Either they’re scheming us in practice or they’re really on top of their game,” Jones-Drew said. “They’re doing a great job, and it’s making us better.”