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Jaguars receiving corps hit by injuries
How much longer can the Jacksonville Jaguars passing game survive without any proven weapons at the wide receiver spot? That's what many are asking after the team continues to get besieged with injuries at this crucial position. At the start of the 2017 season, the Jaguars' top five receivers were Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook and Arrelious Benn. Come Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, the Jaguars are not guaranteed that any of those five receivers will be healthy enough to play.
Robinson is already out, having been placed on injured reserve following the season opener against the Houston Texans when he suffered a torn ACL. Westbrook was next to go as he was placed on injured reserve and had surgery for a core muscle injury on Sept. 12. He is eligible to rejoin the team this week though a decision on his status has not been made. Lee hasn't gone through a full practice since Oct. 13 though he has played each Sunday thus far. Benn went out 10 days ago with knee and hamstring issues.
Hurns became the latest injury casualty among the group when he sustained a badly sprained ankle in the closing minutes of last Sunday's game against the Chargers. Lee, Benn and Hurns were all limited in Wednesday's practice leaving their status for Sunday's game in doubt. A decision on Westbrook rejoining the team will be made later this week.
Lee and Hurns are keys to the passing attack. If they can't play, the receiving corps would consist of Keelan Cole (11 catches, 158 yards), Benn (1 for 12) and Jaydon Mickens (1 for 11) as the only receivers who have caught a pass this season. Westbrook could also make his NFL debut this Sunday. It's a receiving group that wouldn't scare many defensive coordinators and would cause for even more defenders playing closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the running game.
If the offense does have limitations for Sunday, it will put more pressure on the defense, a group that would welcome such a challenge with open arms. That's their mantra, their demeanor, their swagger. They just have to make sure they keep emotions in check. In the last two games, the Jaguars have had three defensive players get flagged for taunting, for unsportsmanlike conduct and get ejected. They were able to overcome each happening however as they posted wins over Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Chargers.
One of the biggest reasons for the defensive success this year has been the play of the three free agents they signed in the offseason. Jacksonville has not had a good history in its free agents having success with the team. In the last five years, Jacksonville has signed 37 free agents with only nine of those players still with the team and that includes four from a year ago and four who were signed during this past offseason. Seven of the nine are currently starting with the other two in key backup roles.
The three free-agent hits from this past offseason signing are all with the defensive unit - end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and strong safety Barry Church. Add in two other free-agent signings from a year ago who are also starters on defense - free safety Tashaun Gipson and tackle Malik Jackson - and it shows why the defense became so good almost overnight.
Bouye has made the most of his second year as a starter in the NFL, tying Gipson for a team-high three interceptions. His interception return of 52 yards to inside the 5-yard line in overtime led to the game-winning field goal Sunday and earned Bouye AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. It was an honor well deserved, said head coach Doug Marrone.
"That was good. He's really been playing well for us all year," the Marrone said Wednesday. "Came up with the big play, but he had three tackles, he did a lot of other things in that game to help us win it. It's always good when someone gets honored because you know it's usually not the individual, but it's a team effort. I'm sure A.J. would agree with that, everything that's happened."
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Jaguars lead series, 11-5. Jaguars have won three of last four meetings, including the most recent game in 2014. The Jaguars 68.8 winning percentage against Cleveland is the best figure against any team faced in franchise history. Jacksonville has won six of eight games in Cleveland.