JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -When the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to release quarterback Byron Leftwich a week before the season, they were counting on David Garrard to stay healthy.
It was a calculated risk then. It may spoil the season now.
Garrard could be sidelined up to a month with a badly sprained left ankle, leaving inexperienced backup Quinn Gray under center as the Jaguars (4-2) try to rebound from an embarrassing loss to Indianapolis while facing the daunting task of playing the NFL's only three-game road trip.
``I don't know that it gets much more difficult,'' coach Jack Del Rio said Wednesday. ``Certainly that's a tall order. ... We've got to work through this and understand we're being faced with a challenge and a little adversity and fight our way through it.''
Garrard has a high ankle sprain, meaning he has ligament damage, and will sit out at minimum road games against Tampa Bay and New Orleans.
``It's more likely to be three or four (games), somewhere in that window,'' Del Rio said. ``I don't think it's likely to think he'll be back any sooner than that.''
Gray, a fourth-year pro who's known more for his eating habits than his pocket presence, will make his first career start against the Buccaneers on Sunday. The Jaguars worked out Doug Johnson, Drew Henson and Todd Bouman on Wednesday, but they didn't plan to make a roster move until Thursday.
Drew Bledsoe was approached about a tryout but declined to come out of retirement.
``You do what you have to do,'' Del Rio said. ``You deal with the situation head on and you make the best of it. It's not ideal for sure. But that's what we're faced with.''
Garrard injured his ankle in Monday night's 29-7 loss to Indianapolis. He tried to play through the injury, but his ankle swelled up considerably at halftime.
Gray struggled off the bench. He finished 9-of-24 for 56 yards, with two interceptions and a fumble. He was considerably better in the season finale last year, completing 13 of 22 passes for 166 yards and scrambling for two touchdowns in a 35-30 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Asked what Gray brings to the table, running Fred Taylor joked, ``probably some ribs, some chicken.''
Listed kindly at 254 pounds, Gray spent the last four years working under Leftwich and Garrard while developing a reputation for meticulously studying the playbook.
``The thing that's going to help Quinn the most is not trying to go out there and win the game himself,'' Taylor said. ``That's where we step in, the offensive line, the running backs. We need to do whatever we can to do our job a little bit better and take pressure off him.''
Garrard was a big reason for Jacksonville's 4-1 start. He completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.
He made significant strides in the offseason and in preseason, enough that Del Rio decided to part ways with Leftwich after four injury-filled years.
But in February, Del Rio backed Leftwich as his starter - even though there were obvious concerns about his mechanics and inability to stay healthy. Had Del Rio decided back then to go in a different direction, the team probably would have signed another quarterback in free agency or considered selecting Brady Quinn in the draft.
Instead, the Jags passed on Quinn twice.
Now, they turn to another Quinn.
``What we need to see is, can he be consistent? Can he lead the team and make good decisions and be productive?'' Del Rio said. ``This is a new opportunity for him. He hasn't been in this situation before, so obviously we're dealing with some unknown.
``We'll do our best to prepare him and have him understand that we're not asking him to carry our team. We don't want him to put the team on his back. We want him to play his role and do his job and be a good distributor of the ball and a good decision maker. Then, as a football team, we have to rally around him and give our team a chance.''
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