JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) In a league in which teams lose key players every week, the Jacksonville Jaguars are close to getting a couple back.
Tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks have made significant progress and should make their season debuts this month. They even have an outside shot at playing Sunday at Tampa Bay (1-3).
Thomas practiced Wednesday without a cast for the first time since breaking a bone in the back of his right hand in the preseason opener Aug. 14, but he still hasn't been cleared to play. He had surgery Sept. 2.
Marks, who had surgery in January to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday. Marks was active for the first time this season at Indianapolis last week, but the Jaguars (1-3) kept him on the sideline.
''They both face different challenges,'' coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday. ''Sen'Derrick, his knee is in good shape, but just the play-after-play rigors that it takes to play in the defensive line. That's the challenge he faces. With Julius, it's the hand. He's been running and staying in shape, so how far that comes along and what the doctors feel comfortable with clearing him on.''
Thomas didn't sound overly optimistic that he would make his Jaguars debut Sunday, saying, ''I don't know if that's going to be an option.''
''It's going to be a continuous process working with the doctors,'' he added. ''It's not going to be just you cross one hurdle and go play with the rest of the kids. It's going to be a continual thing where I'm working my way back and doctors are confident in the different things I'm able to do and letting me do a little bit more, challenging me in that kind of way.''
The Jaguars (1-3) certainly could use Thomas and Marks.
Jacksonville needs a third playmaker in the passing game to help take some pressure off receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. And Thomas caught 108 passes and 24 touchdowns the last two years in Denver. He signed a five-year, $46 million contract with Jacksonville in free agency.
''Point blank, we need everybody to be healthy,'' Lewis said. ''We need everybody in this locker room. He's a huge part of this offense. He's going to change a lot of things as far as how teams come out to defend us. It's going to help everybody, not just the pass game but the run game. I'm looking forward to him getting out there so we can do what we started this offseason.''
Marks, meanwhile, was Jacksonville's best defensive lineman last season.
He finished with 44 tackles, 16 quarterback hurries and a career-high and team-leading 8 1/2 sacks. His sack total ranked second in the league for interior linemen, an impressive stat considering the Jaguars rarely played with the lead. Marks was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl just before injuring his knee in the season finale.
He initially targeted the opener for his return, but that has been delayed while he gets closer to 100 percent.
Without him, the Jaguars have nine sacks in four games.
''We kind of pushed him (Wednesday),'' Bradley said. ''We limited some of his reps, but we got him in some 1-on-1s. We'll evaluate the film and see where he's at.''
The Jaguars are being cautious with both starters in hopes of preventing setbacks and diminishing the chance of playing with trepidation once they return. It's easier said than done.
''If you stub your toe, you're going to watch out for that thing for a little while,'' Thomas said. ''I understand that I've got to protect myself at all times on the football field. That's just part of getting back, getting that confidence, getting that trust back in an injury, so that'll probably be a little bit of it.''
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