JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars’ secondary will be young Sunday, and it will be inexperienced, too.
With safety Dwight Lowery in the concussion program – and with cornerback Alan Ball’s status uncertain for a third consecutive week – the Jaguars could start two rookies in the secondary Sunday. Or they could conceivably start three.
Either way, Head Coach Gus Bradley says it’s OK.
“It’s a great challenge for those guys,” Bradley said Wednesday as the Jaguars (0-3) prepared to play the Indianapolis Colts (2-1) and quarterback Andrew Luck at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
“They’re scrappy. They’ll fight. They’ll challenge one another. They’ve got spirit, so we just have to help them grow. As long as they love ball and they want to get better, ‘Let’s go.’’’
Bradley said while the game “felt big” for the Jaguars’ young players early in the season, it feels it’s “shrinking” recently for the secondary. He said while the Jaguars allowed five touchdown passes in a loss to Seattle last week, the group showed progress despite three rookies playing much of the game.
“The guys went out there and they played,” Bradley said. “They might have made a mistake here and there, but they played really aggressively and physical. That’s a great demonstration. I think the world is getting smaller for them.”
Lowery did not practice Wednesday because of a concussion sustained on the first series of a loss to Seattle Sunday. Ball, like Lowery a starter, was limited, but Bradley said he was optimistic about Ball’s chances to play Sunday.
“He looks very good,” Bradley said.
If neither Ball nor Lowery play, the Jaguars likely would start three rookies in the secondary. Rookie Johnathan Cyprien is the starter at one safety, and rookie sixth-round selection Josh Evans – who impressed coaches Sunday – would start in place of Lowery.
Rookie Demetrius McCray would make a second consecutive start in place of Ball, with veteran Will Blackmon expected to start. Blackmon was limited Wednesday after sustaining a head injury Sunday, but Bradley said Blackmon is expected to practice Thursday and play Sunday.
Blaine Gabbert, who will start at quarterback Sunday after missing two games with a lacerated hand, threw well in his first full practice since being injured in the regular-season opener, Bradley said.
“I think it was just like we anticipated,” Bradley said. “I thought he was effective. I’m sure he would probably say there were some passes he should have hit, but as far as taking charge, and the flow of the offense, it was good.”
Tight end Marcedes Lewis returned to practice on a limited basis, but Bradley said he expects Lewis to do more Thursday and to play Sunday. Lewis has not played in the first three games with a calf injury.
“I think part of it is just gaining confidence that he truly is back and he felt really good,” Bradley said. “That was great news. The plan was to hold him back a little bit today, get him involved and see how it turns out, then increase his reps (Thursday).”
The Jaguars did get positive news in the secondary. Rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who has missed two games with a high-ankle sprain after starting the regular-season opener, has improved significantly, though Bradley said he will not play Sunday.
“Gratzy’s doing good now – he’s really making progress,” Bradley said. “He’s off the crutches and out of the (walking boot). He’s walking around and doing pool work. He’s making really good progress.”
The secondary wasn’t the only thin area at practice Wednesday.
Wide receiver Mike Brown (back) did not practice, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon remained out while serving a suspension. With wide receiver Stephen Burton in the concussion program, the Jaguars worked with Cecil Shorts III, Ace Sanders and practice squad receiver Jeremy Ebert at receiver along with practice squad quarterback Matt Scott.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive end Jason Babin, center Brad Meester and defensive tackle Roy Miller all missed practice and were coaches’ decisions.
Linebacker J.T. Thomas (hamstring) and guard Uche Nwaneri (knee) also were limited, but each played through the injuries Sunday.
*Bradley said he doesn’t expect significant changes in scheme after an 0-3 start, but he said there could be more subtle changes within the team’s existing approach. “We want to be careful what message we’re sending,” Bradley said. . . .
*Bradley early this week discussed simplifying the offense, something running back Maurice Jones-Drew said Wednesday was necessary because of inexperience and injury. “We have a lot of guys down right now, and a lot of young guys playing,” Jones-Drew said. “We have to simplify a lot of things. It’s tougher for us to go out and disguise certain things, because it’s tough for everyone to be on the same page if we’re going a lot of moving parts. We just want to hone in on what we can do best. I thought we figured that out in the second quarter Sunday (against Seattle), and we started moving the ball a little bit.” . . .
*Guard Will Rackley said while he is playing through a bone bruise in his knee, the issue is getting better weekly. “Every player deals with something,” Rackley said. “Obviously, you want to be at 100 percent, but you can’t complain about it.” Bradley said Rackley could be given a day off Thursday. “What I really want to do is make sure he’s healthy,” Bradley said. “He’s a tough-minded, strong individual. We really just need to see where he’s at healthwise, because he’ll go.”