Injuries happen in professional football. It’s a part of the game that everyone accepts as just being another element in what makes the sport so appealing. And while they are an accepted part of the game, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept when it hits a team.
That was apparent when Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone met with local media on Monday and started out his weekly session with the news that two players — starting tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins along with backup running back Corey Grant — were both headed for the injured reserve list. Both players will undergo surgical procedures in the near future, Seferian-Jenkins for a core muscle injury and Grant for an ankle injury. In addition, starting left tackle Josh Wells, who left Sunday’s game against Kansas City with a groin injury and did not return, will be a day-to-day situation, with his status for the upcoming game against Dallas to be determined later in the week.
The three latest injuries add to the woes of an offensive unit that has already been hit hard. Starting wide receiver Marqise Lee was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the preseason. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson suffered the same fate in the second game of the season against New England. The team’s top running back, Leonard Fournette, has played in two quarters of two games thus far and his return from a hamstring injury may not happen for several weeks. In addition, right guard A.J. Cann missed one game due to a triceps injury and center Brandon Linder missed the second half of the New York Jets game with a back injury. Add in the three latest setbacks and that’s eight starters or top reserves who have been limited or who have missed games thus far.
It was a glum Marrone who spoke about what has to happen next.
“People have to step up. It’s part of the game,” the Jaguars coach said. “Attrition plays an important role in the NFL. I’ve said from the beginning; the best ability is availability. We have some guys that we’re working on getting back and hopefully they’ll come back quickly and be ready to play. In the meantime, guys are going to have to step up, not only at their position, but everywhere around them. They have to play well.”
The biggest area of concern moving ahead is at the left tackle spot. The Jaguars were already using their top backup at that spot in Wells, and now may have to go even deeper with reserve Josh Walker. Walker filled in on Sunday for Wells and appeared to hold his own against the Chiefs’ Dee Ford, who — after having his way with Jaguars right tackle Jermey Parnell — was moved to the other side to take on the newcomer Walker.
“We have some options there. We’ll discuss some of the options in case Josh [Wells] isn’t able to go this week,” Marrone said. “Josh Walker is one of them. There are a couple of other ones. We all have to be ready to go and get ready to play.”
Marrone and the Jaguars will now play a waiting game. They must address the situation at both running back and tackle. The Jaguars already made an attempt to rectify their running back situation after signing veteran back Jamaal Charles on Tuesday. He joins T.J. Yeldon and Brandon Wilds on the active roster.
Walker and rookie Will Richardson are the only reserve tackles on the current roster. KC McDermott and Michael Dunn are both on the practice squad and have been working with the Jaguars on a regular basis and either could be promoted if it looks like Wells will not be ready for Dallas. Otherwise, Marrone will await word from higher ups as to bringing in new players.
“I trust the personnel department, Dave [Caldwell], Coach [Tom] Coughlin and the rest of the pro scouts are doing the best job they can,” Marrone said. “We’re getting things together and getting ready to bring some people in. It’s obvious we have to do that. I trust them. For me, my thing is schematically what are we doing to do a better job, as coaches, to put our players in better positions? This way our players have to do a good job of executing and making plays. That’s what it comes to.”
Marrone wouldn’t commit to the Jaguars being forced to alter the offensive plan for the rest of the season. One thing is for certain: Marrone and the Jaguars don’t want to have the same pass-run ratio that they were forced to go with in the Kansas City game. That’s where Blake Bortles attempted a franchise-record 61 passes, completing 33 (tied for third most in Jaguars history) and throwing four interceptions (second most ever by a Jaguars quarterback).
“When you add and you’re missing some key players you have to play to the strengths of what they can do. It is a challenge for us, but there are teams that go through those same challenges,” Marrone said. “It’s going to be on us as coaches to do a good job of putting in the right plays, going to the right people and being able to go and execute it.”
Wells was one of the few Jaguars players in the locker room on Monday during the 45-minute media availability with the players. He didn’t want to speculate on his readiness to play Sunday but did say that the offensive line would make the best of its current predicament.
“It’s too early to tell [on whether he’ll be ready to play Sunday]. I just got to get together with the trainers and come up with a plan and go forward,” Wells said. “We just continue to go, continue to grow. Coach does a great job in getting everybody prepared, it’s the ‘next-man-up mentality.’ We’ve always said there’s an expectation level that needs to be upheld and we plan on doing that.”
Just who that “next man” is will be answered later in the week.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins was placed on IR on Monday with a core muscle injury. He will have surgery this week and will be eligible to come off IR later in the season.
RB Corey Grant suffered an ankle injury, what has been referred to as a LisFranc injury, that will sideline him for the remainder of the 2018 season. Grant had appeared in 28 straight regular-season games for the Jaguars dating back to November of 2016.
OT Josh Walker saw his first action of the 2018 season when he filled in for the injured Josh Wells in the second half of Sunday’s game in Kansas City. Walker played four snaps as a replacement in the Indianapolis game last December and saw action on special teams against the Los Angeles Chargers that year as well. He had previously played in 13 games with Green Bay in 2015 and two games with Houston in 2016.
PK Josh Lambo did not add to his streak of 19 consecutive field goals as the Jaguars passed up several opportunities to kick field goals against the Chiefs. Lambo did convert on two extra-point tries and successfully pulled off an onside kick by recovering his own squib kickoff in the fourth quarter.
FS Tashaun Gipson secured the first interception of the year for the Jaguars’ secondary when he picked off a Patrick Mahomes pass, Mahomes’ first interception this season.
CB A.J. Bouye added the second pick by the secondary when he cut in front of a Chiefs receiver to record his seventh interception for the Jaguars and the 13th of his career.
WR D.J. Chark had just two receptions for 19 yards on six targets in the Jaguars’ first four games this season, but the rookie receiver came up big with two catches of 38 and 30 yards against the Chiefs. Neither catch led to a score, however, as the Jaguars punted on one drive and Bortles threw an interception on the other.
P Logan Cooke punted three times for a 36.0 average, but two of the kicks were inside the 20, including one that bounced at the Kansas City 6-yard line and rolled out of bounds at the 2.
DE Yannick Ngakoue recorded the Jaguars’ only sack of the game on Sunday, when he dropped Patrick Mahomes for a 15-yard loss.
QB Blake Bortles passed for 430 yards against the Chiefs, just two yards shy of the franchise record of 432. That was set by Mark Brunell against New England in a game on Sept. 22, 1996. Brunell had the team’s only 400-yard passing games before Sunday as he also had a 421-yard performance against then-St. Louis on Oct. 20, 1996.