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Moving in the right direction

Posted Dec 13, 2011

Players, coaches say goal against Atlanta is to continue offensive improvement

Marcedes Lewis called it a step.

And because last Sunday’s game was just that – a step, not the entire journey or a completed task – Lewis said what remains important for the Jaguars’ offense is to continue with what happened against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.

Yes, there was improvement. Yes, that improvement produced more points than the offense had scored all season. And yes, rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert looked much better.

But Lewis, the Jaguars’ Pro Bowl tight end, said that’s not enough, and he said it means little if the improvement doesn’t continue Thursday.

“We made some huge strides on Sunday, and we want to continue to follow it up,” Lewis said Tuesday as the Jaguars (4-9) prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta Thursday at 8:20 p.m.

“There have been times this season we’ve done good on offense, kicked ourselves in the butt. Our focus is getting better and we have to sustain what we had, bottle that and take it into Thursday and just play like we know how to play.”

The Jaguars, after averaging just over 12.5 points in the first 12 games of the season, scored 41 points in a victory over Tampa Bay Sunday, with the offense scoring a season-high four touchdowns.

Gabbert also had his best game of the season, completing 19 of 33 passes for a season-high 217 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. It was the second consecutive game Gabbert had thrown two touchdowns.

“We’re executing,” Gabbert said. “Like I said all year, this game is about execution in all three phases. We executed pretty well on Sunday. It just showed on Sunday what we’re capable of doing. We’ve done that all year long in practice, but to see it carry over against an NFL team on Sunday and win a game by a lot, it’s good to see.”

Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said he continued to like what he sees from Gabbert, who on Thursday will make his 12th NFL start. Koetter said Gabbert’s presence in the pocket improved Sunday, and will continue to do so with experience.

He also said a drive late in the first half against Tampa Bay that ended with a touchdown pass to running back Maurice Jones-Drew may have been Gabbert’s best work yet in that area.

“One of the toughest things for any quarterback is to stand in the heat of an NFL rush and know you are going to get hit, and stand in there and deliver,” Koetter said. “That’s a very difficult thing. That’s one of the biggest transitions that quarterbacks coming from the spread type system in college to a pocket system in the NFL, I think that is going to be one of a guy’s biggest adjustments. Blaine is definitely working on that, I think he’s making improvement in that area but that’s an ongoing process. I know I use it a lot but I think experience will cure whatever ailments might be there.”

Koetter also said the offensive performance Sunday was a matter of a lot of what had been going right in recent weeks at last yielding the desired results.

“We’ve been closer than it appeared for the last few weeks,” Koetter said. “The circumstances as they played out, it came like a waterfall so of course you feel great after that game. To see everybody, a lot of guys contribute, guys have a smile on their faces (and) to score in all three phases (offense, defense and special team) – there are some things that just don’t happen in every game.”

Also around the Jaguars Tuesday:

*Safety Dwight Lowery worked on a limited basis with a shoulder injury, and Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker said there is a chance Lowery could play after missing Sunday. If Lowery can’t play, newly-acquired Akwasi Owusu-Ansah could step in, Tucker said: “He has been in there and he’s done a good job, but with Dwight it seems like he’s getting ready to go.”

*Offensive tackle Guy Whimper (thigh) also was limited, and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and fullback Greg Jones were limited for non-injury reasons.

*Defensive end Matt Roth remained out of practice with a concussion that has kept him out the last three games. Tucker said he is day to day.

*Kicker Josh Scobee did not practice because of a groin injury. The Jaguars on Monday signed kicker Brandon Coutu to the practice squad and a decision will be made later in the week whether to activate Coutu for Thursday.

*Wide receivers Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and Mike Thomas (concussion) did not practice. Koetter said Shorts likely will not play and Tucker said of Shorts, “It’s not looking good,” but Thomas’ status is less certain. The absence of Shorts and the uncertainty around Thomas means Kassim Osgood and Jarett Dillard could start, with Chastin West at third receiver. Taylor Price, signed last week off New England’s practice squad, also could play a role in some packages, Koetter said. “You guys can do the math,” Koetter said. “There aren’t a whole lot of options.”

*While discussing Gabbert, Koetter said not only is NFL history littered with quarterbacks who have progressed slowly early in their career, “There are even guys in the league right now who were anointed superstars who aren’t playing like superstars. The history of the NFL shows that to be true,” Koetter said. “How did Steve Young do? How did Troy Aikman do? Different guys progress at different rates. You can fill in your own blanks. There are other circumstances besides just the guy playing quarterback. How good is his protection? Who is he throwing to? How good a defense is he playing against? How much do they blitz him? Is he getting knocked around? Is he getting balls tipped? There’s just a lot of moving parts there and time will tell. All I can say is Blaine is making progress.”

*Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton on the injuries that have hurt the Jaguars’ secondary: “You expect injuries in football, but the number of injuries we’ve gotten – the different guys we’ve rotated in the secondary – it’s crazy, really. You didn’t expect that. As far as the defensive line, we’ve got a lot of guys who play different positions, so it hasn’t hurt us. But you can’t just throw a safety at corner or a corner at safety. All the mixing and matching, it hurt us a little bit, but we’re a pretty simple defense. As long as you play fast and don’t try to do too much – tackle and do the basic things – you can be successful in our defense.” The Jaguars are without their top three corners to start the season – Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Will Middleton are all on injured reserve – with Kevin Rutland and Ashton Youboty now starting. At safety, Lowery and Landry have started much of the season, and the Jaguars placed rookie safety Chris Prosinski on injured reserve Monday with a thumb injury.

*Koetter said rookie running back DuJuan Harris “might be the most improved player on offense that we have.” Harris, who spent the first 11 games on the practice squad, has been on the active roster the last two weeks and ran for a 24-yard gain on his lone carry Sunday. “It was evident right when he got here that he could run the ball,” Koetter said. “He’s extremely quick and has a tremendous change of direction. I give DuJuan a lot of credit for how hard he has worked at learning everything you have to learn to play running back.” Koetter said running backs coach Earnest Byner also should get credit for Harris’s development. “He has come a long way to be able to trust him to go in in those situations,” Koetter said.

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