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Beat-up Jaguars secondary faces tough challenge against Texans’ Watson

Facing off against Deshaun Watson will be a tough ask for an injured-Jaguars secondary.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Jaguars are entering a week five matchup that holds more stakes than typical. While all games are ultimately treated equally on the gridiron, the stakes are higher going to Houston to face off in a divisional opponent in the Texans. Injuries in the secondary, however, will make the job even tougher to accomplish.

Entering this week, the Jaguars placed veteran cornerback D.J. Hayden on the team’s reserve/injured list due to a hamstring injury he suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Hayden was ultimately carted off of the sideline and into the locker room, unable to return to action.

In turn, the Jaguars will be tasked with putting together a new secondary. With Hayden out the team will be moving cornerback Tre Herndon inside, while allowing either rookie Chris Claybrooks or veteran Sidney Jones to man the outside opposite of CJ Henderson who has yet to practice in full this week due to a shoulder injury he suffered against the Bengals, too.

“Obviously, we had D.J. [Hayden] in there, so then obviously he plays outside,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said when asked about Herndon playing inside this week. “But we always knew that we had a quality, quality backup nickel with D.J. He matches well on slots, he’s tough, he’s very, very intelligent. He’s involved in the run game, all the different motion adjustments and stuff that he has.”

Herndon, an undrafted free agent part of the Jaguars’ 2018 class, has played in the slot the majority of his career. It wasn’t until last season, when the Jaguars simply had no other options after an injury to A.J. Bouye and a trade request from Jalen Ramsey sent Herndon in as the next man up, an the eventual permanent starter on the Jaguars’ defense.

In his place manning the outside will be rookie seventh round selection, Claybrooks, a cornerback and return specialist out of Memphis. According to Pro Football Focus, Claybrooks has allowed just five receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown on 39 coverage snaps. He’s been a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy year in the Jaguars secondary.

“I think, when you look at Claybrooks, obviously a late round draft pick, what I like about him is he’s a very aggressive guy. He has no problem with getting his hands on people, he’s very confident in his ability to run and he can run, which is—for a corner, if you have the confidence and you have the ability to get your hands on it, you know they’re not going to run by you,” said Wash.

Claybrooks offers the team speed outside and an ability to get his hands on receivers prior to them completing a route, something that must happen to slow down the Texans’ offense this week.

With Henderson limited this week, Jones could also play a bigger role along with Claybrooks - the two are expected to be in the mix to replace Herndon outside. Jones is a four-year veteran who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on cut-down day this season.

Against Watson, the Jaguars will have to rely on players such as Herndon and Claybrooks. The team has yet to get to the quarterback much this season with just four sacks on the year, the second-fewest in the NFL (Carolina Panthers, 3).

While the Texans have struggled somewhat, Watson remains a legitimate threat with his crew of receivers in Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb. The Jaguars will need to remain vigilant if they are to beat him. The team’s defensive line, however, must also remain cognizant of Watson’s running ability.

“We’ve got to keep him contained with our four-, five-, six-man pressures that we have on third down,” Wash said of Watson.

“But the biggest one is first and second down. The timing throws, we need to have good pressure from our corners, getting hands on people, try to disrupt some of the timing, and let him really feel the rush. If we can do that, I think we can control him. But if we let him run around—around here, we say when that rooster gets loose, he’s going to hurt you.”