Jaguars’ Thomas rounding into form following hand injury
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Julius Thomas and Blake Bortles are starting to develop a rapport.
Thomas caught nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in a 31-25 loss to San Diego on Sunday. It was the fourth 100-yard game of his career and tied his career high for receptions.
''Me and Blake are going to continue to grow,'' Thomas said. ''Like I tell you guys all the time, it doesn't happen overnight. We were able to connect and we'll continue to do the things in practice that we need to do to start to understand each other more, but it's coming along.''
It also was the second consecutive week Thomas scored. He had the game-winning catch against Tennessee last week and the one that got the Jaguars (4-7) back in the game against the Chargers, a 21-yard score that made it 24-19 early in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars play at the Titans (2-9) on Sunday.
Five of Thomas' nine receptions against San Diego went for first downs, with two coming on third down and the touchdown capping a fourth-and-7 play.
''It was good, not only just making the normal catches on first and second down but some critical plays,'' Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. ''I feel like he's in his rhythm.''
It took some time.
Thomas signed a five-year, $46 million contract with Jacksonville in March and looked like he would make an immediate impact in the offseason. But the former two-time Pro Bowl tight end broke a bone in the back of his right hand in the preseason opener Aug. 14 and had surgery to help it heal three weeks later.
He sat out the final three exhibition games and the first four games of the regular season, missing a chunk of time that probably would have helped build a bond with Bortles.
And even when he returned, he was rusty. But he's into rounding into form now, with 29 receptions for 283 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
''Julius definitely adds another dimension,'' guard Zane Beadles said. ''It's good to see him out there and healthy again and doing what he does best. From our perspective, he's had a couple good games strung together. His presence adds to the passing game and that helps open up our running game. Like any game and any situation, it's best to be balanced and make people have to worry about multiple things.''
The Jaguars might need to rely more on Thomas this week against the Titans.
Receiver Allen Hurns is in the NFL's concussion protocol after leaving the game on a backboard and being taken to a hospital. He was released about two hours after the game and is uncertain to play against Tennessee, although Bradley hasn't ruled him out yet.
Hurns has 48 receptions for 758 yards and seven touchdowns this season. If he doesn't recover in time to play Sunday, fellow second-year receiver Marqise Lee would see an increased workload.
There's little doubt Thomas would play more, too.
''You can see the connection that Blake and Julius have re-established,'' tight end Clay Harbor said. ''You see it whenever he's on the field. Even when Julius may not be having a big statistical game, he's still drawing coverage and doing good things. I think when Julius gets open now, Blake will find him. You put a good receiver with a good quarterback and good things will happen, and that's exactly what's going on with those two.''
The next step in their growing relationship could be to make Thomas the top target in the red zone. The Jaguars have scored just five touchdowns in their last 18 trips inside the 20-yard line, including a 1-for-4 performance Sunday that cost them the game.
''We've got the kind of playmakers that make plays in the red zone, but we just got to find ways to get them the ball,'' center Stefan Wisniewski said.
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