JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars appear to be entering the season very healthy.
The one mystery area remains quarterback, with Blaine Gabbert very much the primary storyline on Monday as the team began preparations for the regular-season opener.
Gabbert, named the starting quarterback two days after sustaining a sprained thumb, practiced Monday, but took no snaps and did no team drills. Head Coach Gus Bradley said that was the plan, and Gabbert said after practice he is improving.
“Better,” Gabbert told reporters as the Jaguars began preparing to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
“Just kind of like Coach Gus says: day-by-day. I did a little more than I have been, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow.”
Bradley said that Gabbert threw during individual work Monday, but did not participate in team drills. Bradley also said he expects Wednesday’s practice will be important for Gabbert, but that the third-year quarterback’s progress thus far is what the team anticipated.
“We stretched the ball down the field a little bit, but at the same time we were smart,” Gabbert said. “We didn’t do too much and didn’t do team periods today. We will evaluate it tomorrow and see how I progress on Wednesday.”
Asked if the plan was to “let it rip” Thursday or Friday, Gabbert said with a smile.
“I let it rip today,” he said.
Gabbert said the plan is to participate in team drills Wednesday, and said while the thumb is uncomfortable he is optimistic about playing Sunday. He said he’s not worried about taking snaps from center, which he plans to do Wednesday.
“It’s healing well, about as fast as it can,” Gabbert said. “I feel great. It’s a process. You’re going to feel good some days – some days, not so much.”
Gabbert said the big issues are pain tolerance and confidence.
“It’s having confidence in your throws, and knowing you can get the ball in spots you need to get the ball, too,” Gabbert said. “Not everything is crisp and clean in the game. You’ve got to make some good throws into some tight windows.”
Gabbert said while wearing a brace or similar protection is an option, a quarterback can’t have too much hindering his ability to grip the ball.
“We’re just finding ways right now to help it out,” he said.
Bradley said he expects guard Will Rackley and defensive Jeremy Mincey to return to practice Monday, and each player said in the locker room afterward they expected to be ready, making Gabbert the only significant unknown entering the first week of the regular season.
Also on Monday:
*Bradley lauded the seven players waived Sunday to make room for seven players claimed off waivers from other teams. Six of the waived players – center Dan Gerberry, fullback Lonnie Pryor, wide receiver Jordan Shipley, safety Antwon Blake, defensive tackle Kyle Love and tight end Brett Brackett – had been with the team throughout training camp, and linebacker Andy Studebaker joined the team in mid-August. “I give a lot of credit to those guys,” Bradley said. “They helped form the culture and built where we are today and now it’s the job of the guys that are coming in that help continue what’s already been built.”
*Bradley said while he didn’t want to discuss a specific repetition count regarding running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the three-time Pro Bowl running back “feels pretty good” as he prepares for the regular-season opener. Jones-Drew spent the offseason rehabilitating a sprained foot, and played in the second and third preseason games.
*Bradley said the team likes the potential of wide receiver Stephen Burton, one of the seven players claimed Sunday: “He’s a bigger-type receiver, 217 (pounds) and he runs a 4.4 and he’s real smooth. . . . We like his traits that he brings and to have a bigger type receiver that’s fast and skilled I think is unique to get somebody like that. I know our scouts did a great job targeting him right from the start once we found out the waiver wires, so we’re fortunate to get him.”
*Bradley said tight end Clay Harbor – acquired off waivers from Philadelphia – can play wide receiver if needed. With Justin Blackmon suspended, the Jaguars have four wide receivers – Cecil Shorts III, Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Burton, as well as “offensive weapon” Denard Robinson. “I know he’s had the ability to play wide receiver,” Bradley said of Harbor.
*Bradley said the team retained free-agent rookie Abry Jones on the 53-man roster in part because he proved in the preseason to be a player the coaching staff could trust during the game. He also can play inside or outside, which Bradley said “gives us a lot of flexibility. So I think that and his versatility and then what he showed on tape, we were excited about him. . . . . I’m not saying he’d go in there and dominate or anything like that but he gives us that versatility that we’re looking for, a guy that can play multiple positions.”
*Bradley said the team continues to feel good about progress made by backup running back Justin Forsett. He returned to practice Monday after missing all four preseason games with a foot injury and is expected to participate full Wednesday. “They (trainers and doctors) felt good about him,” Bradley said. Bradley didn’t specify if Forsett or Jordan Todman would be the backup Sunday. “We’ll see how Justin is doing,” he said.
*Bradley also said while Chris McCoy – acquired off waivers Sunday – played linebacker in Philadelphia, he will work as a defensive end in the Leo position in Jacksonville. “We just felt like he was more of a 4-3 Leo type and has a potential to be that,” Bradley said. “We just felt like if we made a commitment to him to always have his hand down and rush, then hopefully we see more production.”