Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis started running again this week. Backpedaling, shuffling and moving laterally, too.
Although he feels much better, he failed to convince coach Jack Del Rio he can play.
Del Rio ruled Mathis out for Sunday’s game against Houston, meaning the Jaguars (6-5) will have to defend All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson without their top defensive back.
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“There’s no sense in dragging that out,” Del Rio said Wednesday. “He’s just not ready to go yet. We’ll take another peek and hope for next week. He is running and starting to move around and bring himself back. At a skill position like that, he’s going to need to show that over a little bit of time before we can put him out there.”
Mathis, a Pro Bowler in 2006 who owns the franchise record for interceptions (28), injured his groin against the New York Jets last month and missed the last two games.
The Jaguars have struggled without him. Buffalo’s Terrell Owens caught nine passes for 197 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago, and San Francisco’s Josh Morgan and Michael Crabtree combined for 10 receptions for 97 yards last week.
Johnson poses an even bigger threat. He has 63 receptions for 945 yards and five touchdowns this season, and has burned Jacksonville repeatedly in his seven seasons.
He caught four passes for 85 yards in the first meeting between the AFC South foes in September. It was one of the few games against Jacksonville in which Johnson wasn’t a huge factor. Mathis shadowed him on every play.
Without Mathis, Jacksonville will turn to rookie Derek Cox and second-year player Tyron Brackenridge to try to keep Johnson from doing much damage.
“He’s a great receiver,” Brackenridge said. “He’s probably the best in the league. … He’s very explosive. He’s strong. He’s a very dominant receiver. He’s one of the best in the NFL, might be the best. He’s a quiet guy, very humble. That’s what separates him from a lot of good players. A lot of good players are more out there when they make plays. He just kind of takes it in stride and goes to the next play, which makes him a great player.”
Mathis, still recovering from a broken index finger on his left hand, hopes to be able to return next week against Miami.
“I’ve been getting better and better every day,” Mathis said. “I’ve been a fast healer and I’m healing fast now. I’m feeling better than (Del Rio) thought I’d be feeling and I’m feeling better than the trainers thought. I’m doing more stuff than the trainers thought I would, and that’s always a plus.
“I’m not pushing it. I’m smart. I know my boundaries. I know my body. I know what it takes to play. If I have that, then I will play. If I don’t have that, then I won’t play.”