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Colts, Jaguars in different phases of rebuild

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Colts, Jaguars in different phases of rebuild

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) It wasn't that long ago that Indianapolis and Jacksonville played for the division title.

Less than two years, in fact.

Both teams have changed coaches, quarterbacks and other personnel since.

It's pretty clear which one is further along in the rebuilding project.

The Colts (5-3) have won three straight heading into Thursday night's game at Jacksonville, pulling out close games behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and playing inspired football since coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.

The Jaguars (1-7), meanwhile, have dropped five in a row since winning the first meeting between the AFC South rivals.

``We're expecting the biggest, baddest punch they've got because of their situation,'' Colts interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. ``We can't sit back and pat ourselves on the back or they'll bloody our nose.''

A lot would need to change for that to happen.

The Jaguars have the league's worst offense - they won't have running back Maurice Jones-Drew again - and haven't played much better on defense. They were far from competitive in four home games, losing to Houston, Cincinnati, Chicago and Detroit by a combined score of 126-34.

Owner Shad Khan, speaking publicly for the first time this season, called it ``sad and embarrassing.''

Khan will evaluate things after the season and hasn't ruled out wholesale changes. That could mean firing general manager Gene Smith and maybe even coach Mike Mularkey after just one season.

Players have a sense that changes could be on the horizon.

``It's just time to get this thing rolling,'' defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. ``We're way out of the playoff picture, but our coaches work way too hard and it's a bad representation of the new owner and what he's done for us. It's time for the players to do their part.''

And if that doesn't happen?

``It's the NFL. It's a cutthroat business,'' guard Uche Nwaneri said. ``You can be here one day and gone the next. It just becomes a little bit more magnified when you have a situation like this. We work with that kind of pressure on us every day, so nothing new there.''

The short week could benefit Jacksonville, which has its longest winning streak (three) in the series.

Home teams are 6-2 in Thursday night games this season, no doubt a distinct advantage after they went 7-2 in those prime-time games in 2011.

``It's tough on the body. It's tough on the mind,'' Colts receiver Reggie Wayne said. ``Especially with us having a young team, it's going to be important that we keep guys mentally focused and make sure you take care of your body because this is going to be a shock to the body. There's a lot of stuff you've got to look into and try to get fixed and get fixed fast. This is a test for us.''

It's the first prime-time game for Luck.

The two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up has exceeded two years of hype over his first eight NFL games.

He already has three more wins than Indy did last season with three veteran quarterbacks. And against Miami on Sunday, he broke Cam Newton's single-game rookie record for passing yards by throwing for 433 in a 23-20 victory. He also tied the rookie record set by his predecessor, Peyton Manning, for most 300-yard games in a season (four) and is on pace to shatter several other marks.

He has completed 190 of 336 passes for 2,404 yards, with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. At this rate, he would shatter Sam Bradford's rookie marks for completions (354) and attempts (590) and Newton's record for yardage (4,051). He also could challenge Manning's rookie record for TD passes (26).

``I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the world,'' Arians said. ``He has made us into a decent offense right now. There are times when we look like a bunch of rookies out there and then there's other times when we play pretty solid. He is the one pretty consistent force. He likes to practice, he loves to learn, he loves to meet and he has an infectious personality. He kind of wills himself on those guys in the huddle so he's brought a lot to it.''

Luck and many of his teammates will sport a new look for this game.

Almost three dozen Colts have shaved their heads in a show of support for Pagano. Luck, kicker Adam Vinatieri and Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea are among those with buzz cuts.

Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 26 and was hospitalized until Oct. 21. On Monday, his physician, Dr. Larry Cripe of the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, said Pagano was in ``complete remission.''

The Jaguars are hoping quarterback Blaine Gabbert can duplicate Luck's success on the field.

Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, was supposed to be the key to Jacksonville's rebuild. Although Gabbert beat Indy with an 80-yard TD pass to Cecil Shorts III in the final minute of the first meeting, he has been mostly inconsistent all season. He really took a step back in last week's 31-14 loss to Detroit, throwing several poor passes and two interceptions.

But if there's one thing the Jaguars have learned after watching Gabbert for two seasons, it's that pressure can make quarterbacks uncomfortable.

They believe that's the key to slowing down Luck and the Colts.

``You can make anybody look like a rookie again with a few hits,'' defensive end Jeremy Mincey said.

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

Ravens football is back and so is Joe Cool.

The team’s first training camp practice took place Thursday afternoon, and Joe Flacco’s teammates – from offensive to defensive players – mentioned how laser focused the 10-year veteran is.

"Joe always has a lot of personality,” running back Alex Collins said via SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown.

“He is a good guy. He’s a real funny guy, but definitely coming into this year, he has a lot of fire behind him. And it does a lot motivating us especially early when we first reported back. Just seeing him work hard and just seeing him get better every day. He’s definitely got a lot of fire behind him this year.”

Flacco is entering the final year of his contract with a lot on the line following a disappointing start to the 2017 season. But a huge factor that is different for the 33-year old coming into this preseason opposed to last is his health.

“Most definitely,” Collins said on whether he can tell if Flacco is healthier this year. “He’s a lot faster as well, by the way, guys.”

And when it comes to the “Is Joe Flacco elite” debate, linebacker C.J. Mosley knows the consensus within the Under Armour Performance Center.

“I think every year [Joe Flacco] comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great,” Mosley said.

“Mainly because everybody outside of this building does not think he is elite and inside the building, everybody does think that way. Since Joe has been here, you know he is one of those players that never gets rattled. You never see his emotions too high, too low. He’s been our quarterback that kinda stays in the middle to make sure everything goes smooth. That’s kinda how he has been this offseason too. He’s come in looking strong, body looking good.”

Flacco’s health is up to speed as well as his mentality. Flacco organized private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends at a local park across from the Ravens’ facility last week. This is the first time he has done so since 2011. When asked if he initiated the session, Michael Crabtree gave all the credit to his new quarterback.

“No, that’s all Flac [Flacco], man,” Crabtree said. “That’s the leader. We’re just the wideouts. [We] do whatever he says. If we’ve got something we bring to the table, then we make it work.”

 

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

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10 Questions in 10 days: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

Right or wrong, fans blamed Shawn Lauvao for much of the Redskins struggles on the offensive line last season. Pro Football Focus backs up the fans, as Lauvao landed a -19.1 grade, among the worst in the NFL at the guard spot. 

It's worth pointing out that Lauvao was playing hurt during much of his nine starts before getting shut down for the season just before Thanksgiving. In fact, injuries have probably been the biggest issue for Lauvao in his four seasons with the Redskins. 

In four seasons in Washington, Lauvao has never played a full 16-game slate. Last year he played just nine games, and in 2015 he only played three games. 

That points to what may be the bigger issue for the Redskins: offensive line depth. Last season was wild with the amount of injuries Washington sustained up front. It seems almost impossible for the team to have that many injuries again.

Still, the Redskins lost Arie Kouandjio for the year in the offseason. Kouandjio played better last year than Lauvao, and having both men in Richmond would have provided real competition. 

And that might be the biggest question: Neither Lauvao or Kouandjio represent a difference maker at left guard, yet the team did little to address the position. 

All offseason, the Washington brass walked a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The organization believes strongly in the players they already have, and outside of signing Paul Richardson and re-signing Zach Brown, the team had a quiet offseason. The Redskins struggled to run the ball the last few years, and still, the team did not look to upgrade at LG. 

It's important to note that the Redskins have two All-Pro caliber offensive linemen in Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Morgan Moses is a plus at the right tackle spot too. The team likes Chase Roullier at center too, and they tried to add depth in drafting Geron Christian in the third round and bringing back swing tackle backup Ty Nsekhe as a restricted free agent. 

Left guard will be a question, and it's hard not to think that it will be the weakest position on the O-line. Should that submarine the group? It shouldn't. What if Lauvao gets hurt?  Then things get quite tricky.

For the Redskins, however, the expectation might be that the line needs to perform as a unit, and with talent like Williams and Scherff, that should cover up any weaknesses.

Time, and health, will tell if that plan works. 

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