Jaguars ready to move beyond distractions
Between Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout, Justin Blackmon's arrest, coach Mike Mularkey's injury policy and playing future home games in London, the Jacksonville Jaguars received plenty of attention in the preseason.
None of it really positive.
It surely wasn't the ideal way for owner Shad Khan and Mularkey to start their first season together.
The Jaguars, though, get a chance to turn things around in Sunday's season opener at Minnesota. It's not a game that's going to get the team in the playoffs, but it certainly could set the tone for what players, coaches and the owner hope will be a different direction for a franchise that has missed the postseason 10 times in the last 12 years.
"I think our guys want to see where we're at,'' Mularkey said Wednesday. "We did some good things in the preseason. We just want to see if we can do that for four quarters. ... I think this will be a good test up there in this environment. I think it's going to be good for us to see where we're at.''
Jones-Drew ended a 38-day holdout Sunday and practiced for the first time in full pads Wednesday. Speaking to reporters for the third time in four days, Jones-Drew made it clear his absence was all about money, and added that he's glad to be back and eager to regain his starting spot. He said he has spent about 12 hours a day learning the playbook.
"I have to kind of get acclimated to the offense,'' Jones-Drew said. "I have to show them the work to get my job back. That's all it is. No one has ever given me anything in my whole life. This is just something that I've been used to. I like it. The competition is going to be great. ... I have a lot to catch up on and get back to my old self.''
Asked whether being the backup to Rashad Jennings reminds him of his rookie season in 2006, when he split time with Fred Taylor, Jones-Drew recalled his sophomore year in high school.
"I was told I was going to start and then they decided not to start me and started a senior,'' he said. "I didn't end up starting until my senior year. It was a lot of hard work I had to put in. I can take a little bit of that, load it back up and work with it.''
Mularkey has little concern about Jones-Drew's conditioning heading into the opener, but the coach wants to make sure he puts Jones-Drew in situations where he "may not have a chance to fail because he has so much information thrown at him.''
More worrisome for Mularkey is the health of his team.
The Jaguars have just three healthy defensive ends - Jeremy Mincey, rookie Andre Branch and Aaron Morgan - and could be without right guard Uche Nwaneri (ankle) in the opener. Nwaneri was limited in practice Wednesday, and with fellow linemen John Estes, Jason Spitz and Drew Nowak on injured reserve, that left Josh Beekman to get repetitions with the starters.
Beekman was out of football last year and left a graduate assistant job at Eastern Kentucky for another shot at the NFL.
"We're fortunate that he fell into our hands,'' Mularkey said.
Jacksonville doesn't have any feel-good stories on the other side of the ball.
Backup defensive ends Austen Lane (foot) and George Selvie (knee) won't play in the opener, and starting cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring) also likely will be sidelined. The Jaguars are so thin at defensive end that tackles Tyson Alualu and D'Anthony Smith are expected to play some on the edge.
Those kinds of story lines are expected, unlike the ones Mularkey has been dealt in his first season.
A win in the opener, though, would be something to build on.
"The first game kind of sets the tone, provides some momentum for the season,'' Blackmon said. "It's important in every aspect.''
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