Injuries on offense threaten to sabotage Jaguars' season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Injuries have decimated the Jacksonville Jaguars on offense just five weeks into the season.

They're down to their third left tackle, they've had to totally revamp their running back room, and they're scrambling to find an effective blocking tight end. It's hard to know when, or even if, those situations will improve.

Teams obviously can't control injuries, but the Jaguars certainly gambled at running back and tight end in their personnel decisions. It's clear that their approach has backfired big time and those mistakes could end up costing the Jaguars a return trip to the playoffs.

"I think in the beginning we took the best 53 guys that should make the team to help us win," coach Doug Marrone said. "We've had injuries at the left tackle position; we've had injuries at running back. We just need to keep filling them up and keep going."

The Jaguars opted not to sign a running back in free agency or draft one and kept only three on the active roster: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, and Corey Grant.

It was a gamble that Fournette, who came into camp at 223 pounds -- 17 pounds lighter than what he weighed in his rookie season -- would be able to stay healthy, because he hadn't played a full season since his sophomore year at LSU in 2015.

He missed five games his junior year with an ankle injury and two games as a rookie in 2017 because of ankle and quad injuries. He will miss his fifth game this season with a hamstring injury when the Jaguars (3-2) play in Dallas on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), and he's played in the first half of only two games: the season opener against the New York Giants and Week 4 against the New York Jets.

He also was suspended for a game last season for missing a team meeting, so he will have missed eight of the team's 22 regular-season games since he was drafted fourth overall.

Yet despite Fournette's injury history, the Jaguars opted to keep only Yeldon and Grant on the active roster and Brandon Wilds on the practice squad. Yeldon was limited by an ankle injury earlier in the season, leaving Grant as the only completely healthy running back.

Grant is best used as a receiver out of the backfield and on the perimeter in open space because of his speed -- not lining up in the backfield to carry the ball between the tackles. He was lost for the season in the second quarter of last Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Jaguars had to use Wilds. That was a disaster, because Wilds was completely lost in pass protection and contributed to Blake Bortles getting sacked five times and hit 11 times.

After Grant when down, the team had to scramble this week. They signed 31-year-old Jamaal Charles, who had been out of football since the end of last season, and David Williams, who was on Denver's practice squad. They added Bo Scarbrough on Thursday. It's unclear what Charles has left, but he's going to have to get up to speed quickly because he's going to be the No. 2 back behind Yeldon for the foreseeable future.

There is no timetable for Fournette's return, either. He could be back next week or might sit out until after the team's Week 9 bye.

Things aren't much better at tight end after Austin Seferian-Jenkins was placed on injured reserve/designated to return this week with a core muscle injury. The Jaguars signed Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul in free agency, though Paul was signed more to help with special teams than on offense. Both are more receivers than blockers, but that was fine because 12-year vet Marcedes Lewis was on the roster to handle those duties.

However, the team cut Lewis a week later -- he had already earned a $500,000 roster bonus -- after he let the team know he was unhappy that they gave Seferian-Jenkins a $5 million annually salary, which was $1.5 million more than Lewis was scheduled to earn.

The 2018 draft was a pretty good one for tight ends, but the Jaguars declined to select one and stuck with the group they had, which also included James O'Shaughnessy, 2015 seventh-round pick Ben Koyack and David Grinnage, a first-year player who spent the 2017 season on the Jaguars' practice squad. None of them are regarded as accomplished blockers.

The team promoted the 265-pound Grinnage from the practice squad this week and will use him as an inline tight end, but an offensive lineman might be used when the team goes to a two-tight-end formation.

The lost gambles at running back and tight end, compounded by the injuries to left tackles Cam Robinson and Josh Wells and Bortles' inconsistency, leave the offense reeling. The power-run identity that coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had planned is gone, and the margin for error, which was already slim, is almost nonexistent.

Fournette will eventually return, but the issues at tight end and left tackle will linger the rest of the season. It's going to make scoring points and moving the ball consistently that much harder for an offense that had issues with that even before the injuries -- and that could end up costing the Jaguars games.

"In the end you have to find a way, somehow, some way, to win the game," Hackett said.

"After the game you take a step back and say, 'OK, who is up now and what do they do well? What can we kind of pair up with the rest of the things we’ve been doing?' It's a challenge."