Dreadlocks flopping behind him, Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri punched his fist through the air emphatically as running back Maurice Jones-Drew skipped into the end zone for his third touchdown Sunday at Houston.
CBS color commentator (and former Jaguars quarterback) Steve Beuerlein noted that the Texans' linebackers "seemed to lose him [Jones-Drew] for a second" on the run.
Take a look.
Sure enough, DeMeco Ryans and Zac Diles lost sight of Jones-Drew during the play.
For Diles, it happened when he dove at Nwaneri's legs to take out Jones-Drew's lead blocker—and bounced off.
For Ryans, Houston's All-Pro defensive captain, it happened when Nwaneri threw him violently out of Jones-Drew's way.
The "pop!" of Nwaneri's pads against Ryans' is audible on the highlight. On Sunday, it was the sound of Jacksonville's ground game chugging ahead against the Texans' worn-out defense.
Looking forward, it may have been the sound of Nwaneri staking his claim to a starting job.
Going into next week's game, at least, Jacksonville shouldn't be too anxious about starting right tackle Eben Britton's injury status. The Jaguars gained 140 of their 185 rushing yards last week after Britton's second-quarter knee sprain forced right guard Maurice Williams out to tackle, leaving a spot for Nwaneri to step up.
Before Nwaneri entered the game, Jacksonville had 45 yards on 10 carries, including two to the right side that were stopped in the backfield. Outside of a 30-yard bootleg by quarterback David Garrard, the Jaguars had struggled to run the ball.
With Nwaneri (6'3", 330 pounds) providing an infusion of size and strength, though, Jacksonville bulled ahead for nearly seven yards per carry from that point on.
Having played both center and guard during the preseason, Nwaneri represents excellent depth for the Jaguars behind Williams, guard Vince Manuwai, and center Brad Meester—veterans whose cohesion and experience make them a steady core for Jacksonville's line.
Prior to last week's game, the prevalent knock on Nwaneri was his footwork, both in pass protection and pulling to run block. Against the Texans, though, he did his part for a line that allowed no sacks and gave Garrard ample time to throw.
Nwaneri, a fifth-round project pick out of Purdue in the 2007 draft, took his lumps last year as a 16-game starter after Manuwai went down with a knee injury in the season opener. A hulking, tenacious run blocker, Nwaneri has as much physical talent as any of Jacksonville's linemen.
If he keeps putting it to use as he did against Houston, the Jaguars will have to think hard about moving him up the depth chart.
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