JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars waited a long time to sign their franchise quarterback and had to wait quite a bit longer to get him ready to go back on the field.
The countdown for Act II of the Nick Foles era is on.
The veteran free agent signee is poised to start Sunday's game at Indianapolis after missing nine weeks of the season. Foles broke his left collarbone in the Jaguars' first game against the Chiefs and had been on injured reserve with a designation to return since.
That comes Sunday in another significant game for the team. At 4-5 and in a congested AFC South, the Jaguars are still very much in the playoff conversation. They are 10th in the AFC now, chasing the Bills (6-3), Steelers (5-4), Raiders (5-4), Colts (5-4) and Titans (5-5) for a wildcard spot. Houston leads the division at 6-3.
Can Foles come back sharp and help the Jaguars close strong? They likely need to close 6-1, or, perhaps 5-2, to crack the wildcard logjam.
The Jaguars slowly incorporated Foles back into practice beginning Oct. 23, with the target date for his return always the Colts game. The IR designation meant that he had to spend eight weeks off the field before he was eligible to come back. And with the Jaguars on a bye last week, that mean Nov. 17 was circled on the calendar just about the moment Foles came through surgery.
"Well he's been practicing now, so we've already gone through the progression of, OK, when he first came back we were focused on doing this, and then we were focused on just really building it up. Building up the reps, building up the amount of speed around him, I guess that's probably the best way, because early on obviously we don't want anyone around him, we don't want any setback," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.
"And then we just started putting him on the move, doing a bunch of different things and he's up to speed as far as where he should be physically, and throwing and all of that. So, we're not going into this week limiting anything that he should do."
Of course, quite a bit happened while Foles was out, namely the unexpected production from rookie Gardner Minshew II. While Minshew had the expected ups and downs as a first-time starter, the sixth-round pick was 4-4 in his time with the team. While Minshew may be the future for the Jaguars, there's no doubt that a healthy Foles is the more consistent choice going forward.
“I’m sure there’s some level of disappointment personally, but the great part about Gardner is that he’s going to do whatever he can to help this team win, and he knows that there are things that he’s going to work on and he’s going to improve upon, which is going to make him even better the next time he has an opportunity,” Marrone said.