For the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in a Week 1 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, third round pick Dwayne Gratz re-entered the starting lineup for the Jaguars and his return was a successful one. No player on the Jaguars defense received a higher grade from Pro Football Focus than Gratz, as his +4.4 set the bar for the team.
Gratz, 23, never missed a game during his time with the Connecticut Huskies, but his Week 1 injury left him in a walking boot and out of the lineup for the Jaguars until Week 7. When he did return, the strong play of Will Blackmon afforded the Jaguars the luxury of slowly transitioning Gratz back into the lineup before giving him the start in Week 10.
He rewarded the team with only two receptions allowed for 21 yards and an interception of Jake Locker that helped the Jaguars inflate their early lead.
"They had the running back go outside, so I knew they weren't throwing the ball to him," Gratz said of his first career interception. "They had the speed guy in the slot, so my mindset, I knew they were going to attack our seams. So I saw that, sped over the top and the ball came right to me."
It was one of four turnovers for a Jaguars defense that was opportunistic en route to a 29-27 victory that snapped a 13-game losing streak dating back to November 2012. Leading the way was a young Jaguars secondary that featured three rookie starters.
"It's been interesting, to say the least," Gratz said of the young secondary. "We make a few mistakes here and there, but as long as we stick together and are on the same page I think we'll be able to make a lot more plays."
Presumably, they'll have the opportunity to make more plays, as Gratz undoubtedly solidified his place in the starting lineup with his performance against the Titans. And they may see those opportunities against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11, as Carson Palmer is second in the NFL in interceptions with 15.