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Getting comfortable

Posted Nov 9, 2011

Rackley improves throughout first half of rookie season

Will Rackley will tell you there’s still work to be done. A lot of it.

Rackley, the Jaguars’ rookie left guard, said while it’s true he played better in recent weeks just before the bye than he did early in the season, he in no way looks at tape seven regular-season games into his NFL career and sees everything he wants to see.

Still, he does see improvement.

And Rackley, the Jaguars’ third-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, said that’s something he wants to continue to see moving forward.

“As the year progresses, I think I’m learning more and more,” Rackley said this week as the Jaguars (2-6) prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (0-9) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

“I think I’m building a comfort level. There’s still a lot to learn, but I think that’s what it is.”

Those around the Jaguars say that that comfort level is causing Rackley to look more and more like the player the Jaguars believed they were drafting last April, when team made him the No. 76 overall selection in the draft.

“He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes to begin with,” Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. “He doesn’t make the same mistakes over and over. I think he’s gaining experience on some of the things he has seen the first half of the year.

“Some of those things, because he’s not making the same mistakes, he’s improving.”

Rackley’s development has helped give the Jaguars solid play on the left side of the line in recent weeks, something that wasn’t always the case in preseason and early in the season.

Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars’ left tackle, struggled at times in preseason, but Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said recently that with the exception of two games missed because of a shoulder/neck stinger injury, Monroe has played the best football of his three-year NFL career.

Smith also credited Monroe with aiding Rackley’s development, and said the two represent a duo that could give the Jaguars a strong left side of the line for the foreseeable future.

 “I try to do what (former Jaguars guard) Vince Manuwai did for me,” Monroe said. “I try to be a positive role model as far as work ethic, and as far as football skills to try to share as much knowledge as I have with him. In turn, that makes me better, too, because I’m reinforcing it so that we can grow together.”

Rackley played left tackle his final three seasons at Lehigh, and said the switch from playing in college on the outside to playing interior in the NFL was more difficult than he anticipated.

“It equals a big change of the position – tighter sets and a tighter window for punching the guy,” Rackley said. “You have to adjust to the defensive linemen having a more direct line to the quarterbacks.  Those little things are a big deal and I’m getting a good grasp of that now.”

Rackley said you get through such a period by remembering, “It’s just football.”

“You have to have a quick memory,” he said. “You have a bad play, just keep going. You have a bad play, keep going. You keep running every day.  I know I’m going to get better and I’m just focusing on that.”

Rackley, after starting the first two games of the regular season, missed Week 3, started against Cincinnati when Monroe missed with a stinger, then played again as a reserve the following week. He returned to the starting lineup against Pittsburgh on October 16 when Eben Britton’s recurring back injury forced him out of the lineup, and he has started the last two games since.

Against the Ravens, Rackley helped limit Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. In the Jaguars’ final game before the bye, a loss to the Houston Texans, Rackley left briefly with an ankle injury before returning to finish the game and again playing consistently and solidly.

“He has showed some grit, he has battled,” Del Rio said. “In our last ballgame, to get a little rolled up, and to throw some extra tape on it and go back out – that was a good sign in terms of an offensive lineman being able to suck it up and go out there and be tough and play in the trenches for us.”

The Jaguars rushed for 132 yards against the Ravens, with Maurice Jones-Drew’s 105 yards on 30 carries the only time this season Baltimore has allowed a back more than 100 yards rushing.

“It definitely gave me a boost of confidence, playing against that type of defense,” Rackley said. “Playing on Monday night, I was excited, so it gave me a great deal of confidence.”

Monroe said Rackley was not only a big part of the success against the Ravens, he has been key to the Jaguars’ offensive line in the last several weeks.

“A lot of it is just coming from him, understanding the game a little more,” Monroe said. “He’s starting to play the game a little more physical. I’m happy with him. I think he’s doing a great job.”

And while it might have been possible for a rookie – particularly one with no off-season from a smaller school – to use such things as an excuse, Monroe said Rackley never did.

“This is the NFL,” Monroe said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here five years, 10 years or one year. You have to play on Sunday, and anything else doesn’t matter. Will just kept working. He wasn’t the only one on the offensive line getting criticism.

“We all just kind of shut everything out and just kept working

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