JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago at this time, Jacksonville Jaguars fans were bemoaning the fact that multi-talented tight end Julius Thomas was missing not only preseason contests due to a broken hand, but that he would likely miss the first four games of the regular season as well.
The Jaguars had acquired Thomas from the Denver Broncos during free agency as a measure of helping a struggling passing game. But Thomas was a non-factor until the second half of the season when he and quarterback Blake Bortles finally seemed to develop a connection.
That set up anticipation for this season as a healthy Thomas is expected to emerge as a potent weapon in the passing game. If it's to happen, it won't be until the regular season.
Thomas, who like other Jaguars starters will likely miss Thursday's final preseason game at Atlanta, has caught just one pass for four yards in the three preseason contests that he's played in. He's been 100 percent so it's not because of any injury that his numbers are so low.
Thomas' only catch came in last week's game against Cincinnati when he made his 4-yard reception. The thinking with Thomas was to find a way for him to have a few catches against Cincinnati so that he could start the regular season on a positive note. That failed to happen, however, and now the Jaguars will enter the Green Bay game wondering how much help they'll get from Thomas.
-- First-year defensive end Dante Fowler continued to struggle with the Jaguars. Fowler, who missed his entire rookie season last year after tearing his ACL in his first offseason practice session with the team, had a strong showing in this past year's offseason practices.
That carried over to training camp where Fowler was the talk of the defense the first couple of weeks of camp. But fans have heard and seen less and less of Fowler since then.
He's been lost in obscurity in the Jaguars three preseason games thus far.
After starting the first two preseason games, he was relegated to backing up rookie Yannick Ngakoue, despite having been listed as the starter up until hours before game-time.
And once again, Fowler did little to show that he can be counted on as a disruptive force for the Jaguars. His name did not show up in the final defensive stats, i.e. no tackles, no sacks, no pressures.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said it wasn't a demotion for Fowler, but rather a situation where the team wanted to get more looks at Ngakoue. He also liked the way Fowler responded to the challenge that the coaching staff issued him last week.
"He responded really well," Bradley said. "I think the big thing with Dante is just his conditioning. He was going two reps a set and we just felt like he needed some extra conditioning to play at the tempo we wanted him to and at the level we wanted him to and he did a great job handling it."
Fowler isn't likely to play in the Jaguars' final preseason game on Thursday against Atlanta, so he'll enter the regular season playing at a mediocre level at best. The coaching staff is still high him though so he'll likely regain his starting spot by the time the Jaguars play their opener against Green Bay on Sept. 11.
-- Backup linebacker Hayes Pullard thought he had given the Jaguars a lift midway through the second quarter in Sunday's game against Cincinnati. Instead he likely subjected himself to a serious of jokes and one-liners this week as the team prepares to close out its preseason schedule with a game in Atlanta on Thursday (7 p.m.).
The setting was Jacksonville had the ball at the Bengals 1-yard line on third down. Pullard came into the game as a blocking back behind Blake Bortles and in front of running back T.J. Yeldon.
With many suspecting the linebacker to blast into the line and create a hole for Yeldon, the Jaguars crossed up that thinking by faking to Pullard, who then drifted out into the flat where he was uncovered.
Bortles threw him a short pass which he grabbed and dashed into the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown. But officials flagged the Jaguars for an illegal substitution as Pullard had failed to report to the referee that he was in the game as an eligible receiver, something he had to do since he was wearing No. 52.
The five-yard penalty followed was followed by another Jaguars' infraction and then an incompletion, forcing them to kick a field goal and lose a potential four points.
But just when it appeared that Pullard's gaffe might end up costing his team the game, he responded with an even bigger play in the fourth quarter.
With Jacksonville trailing 21-19, Pullard stepped in front of Bengals receiver Michael Bennett at the Jaguars' 32 and made the timely interception. He then raced 68 yards to the end zone to give Jacksonville the lead for good.
"He did a great job (on his interception)," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said of Pullard. "His drop and how he read the quarterback and how he read the formation and the routes, he put it all together there. It was a great play, it was a great play by him."