Jones-Drew to begin season as third-down back

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Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who practiced for the first time Monday since ending his 38-day holdout Sunday without getting a new contract, will play in the season opener in Minnesota.

Jones-Drew contributed almost 48 percent of the Jaguars' offense last season, the highest percentage by any player in the past 10 years according to Elias. It stands to reason he won't get a full workload this week, but any number of snaps shouldn't be a surpise.

Although Rashad Jennings will start and Mularkey isn't sure how many snaps Jones-Drew will get, Mularkey envisions Joes-Drew being the same workhorse back he's been in the past for the Jaguars.

When he was asked if Jones-Drew will get most of the carries once he's 100 percent with Jennings complementing him, he said, "That's kind of the way the system works, yes. Whoever starts, the other one will handle the third downs."

He also said the third-down back will also give the starter a break at times, especially on long drives.

Mularkey was asked if he thinks Jones-Drew, who jokingly said he likes to get 80 carries, will like his role in the offense.

"I think he's seen the history of this offense. People have been critical of it, rushing Michael Turner too much over 300 carries so he's going to get his carries. That's kind of been the history I've gone all the way back to Pittsburgh even with Jerome Bettis. We had Amos Zereoue. The feature back takes a lot of the carries," he said.

But there's a role for "the guy who comes in," as Mularkey refers to the backup.

"It's a different pace back. A different style back, not purposely done that way, but that's just the way it was with different running styles," he said.

Last year in Atlanta when Mularkey was the offensive coordinator, Turner had 301 carries while Jacquizz Rodgers had 57. Jones-Drew had 343 carries last year while Deji Karim had 63.

The Jaguars also may throw more this year. Atlanta threw 594 passes last year while the Jaguars threw 469.

Mularkey, though, said he doesn't count carries.

"They're going to get the number of carries it's going to take us to win football games so whatever number that is, I couldn't tell you as we sit here but if it's 300, yes. Whatever it is, if we get into a four-minute (offense in the final four minutes) and we have to run the ball, we're going to run our best ballcarrier," he said.

Mularkey said that Jones-Drew, who spent several hours with running backs coach Sylvester Croom Sunday getting a crash course in the offense, seemed to pick up the offense, but still has to get used to being hit again.

"Those first two days that you come back for training camp and have the pads on and get a couple of hits, your body has got to get conditioned to taking hits and getting over the soreness. He will have a little bit of that," Mulakey said.

Mularkey said the Wednesday practices are long and physical and added, "I'll have a better feel for how he is after Wednesday."

The unanswered question is how much of a beating Jones-Drew can take with his battering ram running style in his seventh season after having knee surgery last year. Running the way he does usually takes a toll on a runner. He's 27 and may not have much left in the tank.

But he could be helped if the Jaguars throw the ball better and opposing teams can't stack the box against them the way they have in the past.

"When you have a balanced attack, you can't be stopped," Jones-Drew said.

-- The Sports Xchange