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Jaguars TE Julius Thomas getting closer to being cleared to play

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas is another step closer to making his 2015 debut. He has been cleared to start catching the ball during individual drills in practice.

How his fractured right hand responds to the jostling and exertion will determine how quickly he’s fully cleared to play.

"It’s going to be a continuous process working with the doctors," Thomas said before Wednesday’s practice. "It’s not going to be just, you cross one hurdle go off 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.

"It’s just going to be a really a day-by-day situation [to see] how well I respond to the different demands that it takes to play football."

Thomas hasn’t caught a football since the Jaguars’ preseason opener on Aug. 14 against Pittsburgh. He fractured a bone in his right hand when he was tackled after catching a short pass from quarterback Blake Bortles. Thomas continued to practice on a limited basis, though he did not participate in contact work and didn’t catch passes.

The first passes he caught on Wednesday were short throws from senior offensive assistant Frank Scelfo off to the side just before warmups. Thomas did not have a cast on his hand but did wear some protective gear.

Thomas said he was going to be careful with his hand, especially until he sees how it feels on Thursday.

"If you stub your toe, you’re going to watch out for that thing for a little while," Thomas said. "I definitely understand that I’ve got to protect myself at all times on the football field and that’s just part of getting back, getting that confidence, getting that trust back in an injury."

The Jaguars had hoped Thomas would be able to return for Week 4, but doctors decided he needed surgery and on Sept. 2 he underwent a procedure to insert a screw to stabilize the break and also tighten the ligaments attached to the middle finger on his right hand. Thomas said he waited that long to have surgery because neither he nor doctors realized that the ligaments attached to his middle finger hadn’t healed as quickly as hoped.

There’s a chance he could play on Sunday against Tampa Bay, but it looks better for the following week against Houston.

"[The doctors] do a great of making sure that I’m informed of my risk and how I have to go about getting back to playing full time again," Thomas said "I’m really going to lean on those guys and make sure that I’m doing the right things and following their plans so that hopefully nothing else happens."

Thomas was one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL the past two seasons, catching 108 passes for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns with the Denver Broncos. The Jaguars signed him to a five-year, $46 million contract ($24 million guaranteed) in March.

“It’s good, man. I don’t really know how it feels yet. It’s going to be a good day to go out there and try to do a little bit more than I’ve been doing and see if I can get a good feel for it.”