INDIANAPOLIS —We've got the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts matching up on Sunday in their 2017 Week 7 AFC South showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With an inside scoop on the opposition heading into the game, we check in with John Oehser, a senior writer for the Jaguars and their website, Jaguars.com (follow John on Twitter @JohnOehser):
Walker:Now, John, I did this with Jim Wyatt of the Titans last week when it came to Marcus Mariota, so I'll do the same with you this week about Leonard Fournette. I promise I won't tell the team, but what's the latest on Fournette's ankle, and do you think he'll be good to go by Sunday's game against the Colts?
Oehser: **"It sounds like it. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday; said in the locker room Thursday afternoon that he believes he'll play — obviously did the caveat that it's up to the coaches. He was ready to go back in late on Sunday — he injured the ankle at about nine minutes to go against the Rams. He had been cleared medically to play; sometimes in that situation you get adrenaline (that) allows you to come back that day, then you can't go the next week. But this sounds like he'll be ready to go."
Walker:There was a little doubt heading into the draft that maybe Fournette would be the kind of guy with All-Pro talent, but he put a lot of tread on the tires while he was at LSU. First off, how impressive has Fournette been to you to this point of the season, and is there worry that he could wear down at some point?
Oehser:"He's been as impressive as any young rookie I've been around. I covered the Colts for about 10 years; (Dwight) Freeney was obviously really impressive in '02 up there. I don't recall in that 10-year period — a lot of good players; I'm not sure any made quite the impact that Leonard has made early on. I mean, it's easier to do as a running back; it's a position where you're supposed to be able to come in and impact right away. But he's really become the defining point of the offense. I mean, he's had, I think, through six game's he's got 600 yards rushing — or 596. But, if anything, the impact's greater than that. He's got seven touchdowns, defenses are gearing up to stop him at the expense of anything else. I mean, he's really become the focal point of the offense. As far as the longevity and as far as wearing down, he hasn't yet. I mean, he had a lot of injuries in college in terms of the ankles — I guess that's a bubbling concern with observers — but the team's not overly worried about it, and, I mean, he's a horse. You know, the great ones are built physically different than the other ones in this sport, and, again, I covered a lot of great ones in Indy — Freeney, Peyton (Manning); you know, the list goes on; Bob Sanders, these guys — this kid's special on that level."
Walker:Defensively, the Jaguars have been absolutely money to this point of the season. Now, it's no coincidence considering the money spent in free agency, as well as the draft picks poured into the unit, but after all that, these guys still have to go out there and produce — and they have. What's been the formula of success for the Jacksonville defense?
Oehser:"It's been pretty simple — and they are a legitimately good defense. This team hasn't been great against the run this year. When teams have beaten them, they've run for a lot of yards — they've given up about 190 in their three losses, but about 99 in their victories. So it's a pretty clear formula: when this team can stop the run and get their defensive front in a pass-rush mode, they're really, legitimately good. Calais Campbell, who signed as a free agent, has eight sacks; their young pass rushers — Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. each have four. Those are pretty accurate numbers; they're not really getting them late in games, closing leads — I mean, these are impact-type numbers. To go along with that, they've got, I think it's 16 takeaways; they've scored, I want to say, it's close to 80 points off takeaways — more than half their points as a team. This team thrives on getting ahead of you, and then forcing turnovers and sort of starting what I like to call the avalanche. You know, 29-7 against Houston, 44-7 against Baltimore, 30-9 over Pittsburgh — those have been games where their defense has been able to smell blood in the water, so to speak, and go after you. And that's their formula to win; when they're playing well, that's what they do."
Walker:What have the last two months been like for for Blake Bortles? I mean, the guy had a brutal preseason, there was rumors of him being benched now three years after he was picked third overall in the draft … and then starts to turn it around; looks like a world beater against the Ravens in a blowout win, and then goes and throws for 95 yards in a blowout win over the Steelers. Do we know what Blake Bortles is at this point?
Oehser:"Yeah, probably. I mean, he's right now a guy that, you know, they're trying to gear the offense toward the running game here. They felt like Blake threw way too much the last couple years — I don't know if he led the lead in attempts, but if he didn't he was really close The result was a lot of interceptions, a lot of sacks, the negative down-and-distance stuff — all the stuff you don't want as an efficient offense. So they're clearly trying to get away from that. Blake is trying to adjust to it — he's used to throwing a lot of passes; he's not anymore. He still has some of the interception issues that have kind of haunted him. They're down this year but they're still sort of there, although not quite as much. So he's trying to adjust to it. This is a big year for him; it's really the year he has to prove he's a franchise guy. Hasn't done that yet. My guess is he would tell you it's been a difficult season for that reason. He takes a lot of criticism down here, but he's also sort of getting his way through it. They're 3-3, I want to say his touchdown-to-interception ratio is about 7-to-5, 8-to-5, so it's not ideal, but it's not horrible. He's definitely their starter going forward, and he's the guy they're going to roll with, and they feel like the issues in the passing game — there's a lot of them — are just as much the receivers, just as much the line. I mean, this is not all Blake Bortles' fault, quote-unquote. So I'm not going to say it's been easy for him, but I would say he's getting through it the best he can."
Walker:With everything we've talked about — Fournette, the rising defense, Bortles showing some signs here and there — would you say, to this point, the fanbase has been a bit revitalized down in Jacksonville? I mean, this is an organization that has had its obvious struggles, really, in seven of the last nine seasons.
Oehser:"Yeah, I mean, the fan support — there's this perception nationwide that it's not there. And it's a little bit of a myth. The fans have been strong through pretty much four, five, six years of losing down here. I got back here in 2011, and it's been pretty strong on that front. I would say the team overall feels revitalized, is probably the best way to put it. I mean, this is a franchise that (had) three wins last year, five the year before. It's been down around that number. This is a 3-3 team that is really a play or two away from being 5-1, and for the first time in a long time, they're closer to being 4-2, 5-1 than they are to being 1-5, in that range. So this is a good, improving team, with a defense that it can rely on. Sometimes when you're improving early you don't know quite why. This team knows what it is: it plays defense, it runs — it's built to do that, and so I'd say, within the organization there's a strong feeling that 3-3 can turn into 8, 9, you know, if they play well, 10 (wins). So they feel good about things going forward right now."