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Just a start

Posted Aug 9, 2013

EDITORIAL: Important to remember a 27-3 loss in the preseason opener is only the start for Jacksonville Jaguars building process.

JACKSONVILLE – Breathe deep. Relax. Good.

Now, say this to yourself: It’s Week 1.

Of the preseason. That’s right, *the preseason.*

If you’re a Jaguars fan, maybe that makes you feel better. Or not. But whatever, the reality is while a 27-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 preseason opener wasn’t what Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley wanted from his debut, it was still what it was:

The preseason. And for this team, the first game of that preseason was a start.

*A start.*

“We’ll grow,” Bradley said after the Jaguars committed four turnovers and seven penalties while falling behind 14-3 in front of 59,135 at EverBank Field at halftime and never threatening after that.

“The good thing is it’s preseason and that’s what preseason is all about, to give us that chance.”


We won’t paint Friday as perfection, and the first preseason game of the new Jaguars era wasn’t close to that on any front. The offense struggled, and Blaine Gabbert – in a starting quarterback competition with Chad Henne – struggled statistically, completing 5 of 10 passes for 19 yards and an interception that led to the Dolphins’ second touchdown.

There were also mistakes coaches didn’t want to see. Two fumbled punts, and too many dropped passes early as the offense struggled to find a rhythm.

And that whole thing every Jaguars fan has been waiting for? The so-called “separation” at the quarterback position?

Well, that didn’t happen, either.

Gabbert struggled but did so behind a line without center Brad Meester, and did so with a receiving corps that was without its two starters, Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon. The Jaguars were also without Maurice Jones-Drew, who was given the night off as a precautionary measure following an offseason spent rehabilitating a sprained foot. That’s the team’s three most dangerous weapons.

Three of Gabbert’s incompletions were drops, including the interception, which bounced off the hands of fullback Will Ta’ofu’ou.

But credit Gabbert for this: The injuries? The absences? The drops? He didn’t use them as an excuse.

“Once we got into a rhythm, we had a nice drive going and we had an unforced error, a turnover down in the red zone,” he said. “You can’t have that in that situation. When you’re down there you need to come away with points, field goal or a touchdown.”

The Jaguars were actually at the 35 when the turnover occurred, but either way, Gabbert said the turnover was critical.

“We can’t let that happen,” he said.

The Jaguars split time for quarterbacks evenly on Friday, with Henne playing the second quarter and competing 8 of 11 passes for 87 yards and Mike Kafka and Matt Scott splitting time in the second half. Henne outperformed Gabbert statistically, but played most of his series against Miami’s second-team defense whereas Gabbert played against Miami’s first team.

The quarterback competition that has been the dominant storyline of camp didn’t sort itself out much, but quarterback wasn’t the only storyline Friday.

There were positives. Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks got good penetration and a defensive line that has struggled too long to pressure the passer did so pretty effectively early.

Cornerback Dwayne Gratz had an interception. Running back Jordan Todman filled in nicely for Jones-Drew. The interior of the defensive line looked strong more often than not.

Those were the positives. The most-glaring not-so-positive?

Wide receiver Justin Blackmon, causing unnecessary distraction again, this time arguing with Miami cornerback Nolan Carroll and being led off the field by Jones-Drew. Bradley has been patient and positive with Blackmon; this was no way for the oft-troubled receiver to respond.

On the field, fans will worry over the score, and how this got one-sided in a hurry. And they will gnash teeth over a quarterback situation that at first glance seems very similar to last year’s quarterback situation.

Players in the locker room afterward had a different perspective.

“It is what it is,” Gabbert said. “We’re going to watch the film and learn from it. There’s going to be things we did well and things that we need to correct. At the same time, it was the first game of the year and it was nice to get back out there on the football field.”

Cornerback Alan Ball agreed.

“It’s a building block,” Ball said. “You come out, the first preseason game, you learn from it – you definitely do that. But the good thing is you know what to build on. You know what direction you’re going and you know what to build on. That’s what the preseason is about, it’s about building your team.”

Marcedes Lewis, an eight-year tight end and one of the most-tenured players on the roster, talked about working out kinks and trying to figure an identity, and that may be the best slant on this game. This wasn’t perfect, and there was a lot not to like. If you’re a Jaguars fan, there were a lot of things you would rather have seen Friday.

But you weren’t seeing a finished product or anything close. This is the start of the building process, a process that anyone watching closely this offseason and years past knows may take a while. What you saw wasn’t perfection, and you saw a lot of flaws, but Bradley said he also saw a team willing to fight, and he saw some good things, too.

Pretty much what you’d expect to see from a start of a building process. *A start.*


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