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Justin Blackmon to make debut for Jaguars in New Orleans

Posted Aug 16, 2012

Rookie wide receiver to play a half when Jaguars play the New Orleans Saints on Friday.

He will play about a half, if all goes as planned.

And of all the storylines surrounding the Jaguars’ second preseason game – and there are many pressing storylines – that’s the one that stands out.

When the Jaguars play the Saints Friday at the Mercedes Benz SuperDome in New Orleans, La., Blaine Gabbert will continue his development, the offensive line will continue looking for continuity and the team will look to maintain momentum from preseason Week 1. And of course, there’s this:

Justin Blackmon will make his debut.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Blackmon said early this week.

Who isn’t? Blackmon, widely considered the best wide receiver in college football the last two seasons, was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was selected by a team that very much needed wide receivers, a team that was 32nd in the NFL in passing offense a year ago.

That would have been enough for an anticipated debut. Then, Blackmon’s offseason issues led to a 10-day holdout. He missed the Jaguars’ August 3 scrimmage, and Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey opted to hold Blackmon out of the preseason-opening victory over the New York Giants last Friday.

Mularkey held Blackmon out for a simple reason. He didn’t want to put Blackmon in a position to fail, or to be injured, after signing the previous Monday.

That approach ended two days later. Blackmon moved into the starting lineup when the Jaguars practiced Sunday, and a day later, he had his first NFL padded practice.

His progress was a daily storyline. On Monday, he caught two touchdown passes in red-zone drills from Gabbert, including one in which he came from behind safety Dwight Lowery to make a catch that had players in the locker room buzzing afterward.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the topic turned to Blackmon’s conditioning, with Mularkey saying although the rookie had clearly worked and studied during his holdout, like any player who missed part of training camp he was a bit behind in that area.

On Friday, the catching up will continue. Mularkey said he plans to play the starters for a half. That includes Blackmon, meaning his high-paced, high-profile acclimation and education will continue – and it means for the first time it will be viewed by more than teammates, coaches and a few media.

“He’s getting better,” Mularkey said, adding that if Blackmon might struggle anywhere it would be in the two-minute drill. “That’s hurry up. The plays are being called at the line, you’ve got to execute them, get back at the line in a quick fashion and his conditioning will show up there especially in the game. He’s just got to get in the game condition which we’re trying to do with him.

“That’s why we’re putting him in as quickly as we are.”

Blackmon’s development, while the main topic around Jaguars camp this week, was far from the only one. Mularkey put the Jaguars through three intense practices during the final week of two-a-days, and players late in the week talked of the improvement made during that time.

They also talked of the need to maintain the momentum gained from a 32-31 victory over the Giants in which Gabbert and the starting offense turned in a game-opening, 89-yard touchdown drive. The first-team offense committed turnovers on its second two series, and the Jaguars rallied from a 24-7 first-half deficit by scoring the game’s final 11 points.

The Jaguars are expected to be without several players Friday, including cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring), defensive end Austen Lane (foot), linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and fullback Brock Bolen (knee).  Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu could play about 8-to-10 plays Friday, and Mularkey was less certain about the status of cornerback Rashean Mathis.

Both Alualu and Mathis have practiced in training camp, but were held out of the first preseason game as they gain strength while returning from knee surgeries.

Injuries to the offensive line also remain a focus, with guard Will Rackley (ankle), guard Jason Spitz (foot) and center John Estes (knee) out. Left tackle Eugene Monroe will make the trip after being hit in the head in practice Wednesday. His status for the game has yet to be determined.

 “Obviously as an offense we have a lot of things we want to work on,” center Brad Meester said. “We want to continue to our pass protection. We want to protect Blaine better. Even though it’s a preseason game, there’s going to be some noise. We need to handle that noise, because our first game is going to be in the done, too. We need to be able to communicate and operate in that environment.

“Winning’s always important. You always want to win. That’s what we’re out here to do, is to win, but obviously the key is to get better.”

Linebacker Paul Posluszny said defensively the idea is similar. While winning is important, equally important is to prepare for the regular season.

“We need to see improvement from last week,” Posluszny said. “Last week, we said we’re going to focus on this group of plays. We were going to run these pressures. Same thing this week. We have package we’re going to focus on. We want to see us go out and execute those packages that we focused on all week.”

“Winning’s part of it, and that matters, but there are specific things we want to look at. Wins and losses in the preseason, they do matter, but the overlying whole is to make improvements.”

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