JACKSONVILLE – So, you already know the storylines.
And yes, they’re sorta, kinda obvious as the Jaguars prepare to play the Detroit Lions in Week 3 of the 2014 preseason Friday.
There are the Jaguars quarterbacks: Chad Henne and Blake Bortles. There’s the center competition, and there’s the running game, which improved last week and it still looking for consistency.
And because it’s Preseason Week 3, which means the starters will play deeper into the game, there is the issue of how well the Jaguars’ first team plays against the Lions’ first team. That matchup will be extended deep into the third quarter, and in NFL circles, that’s relatively significant.
But while those five topics are indeed important topics, they’re not the only topics that matter for the Jaguars in the most important game of the preseason. So with the idea of dealing with the aforementioned five topics at a later date (read: Thursday), in this story we’ll present you with three Also Very Important Players to Watch when the Jaguars visit Ford Field in Detroit Friday:
1. Cameron Bradfield. Who’s the most tenured Jaguars offensive lineman? Not any of the players listed as starters on the depth chart: Luke Joeckel, Zane Beadles, Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon or Austin Pasztor. It’s Bradfield, who joined the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent in 2011 and who has more NFL starts than any Jaguars offensive line starter other than Beadles, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from Denver this past offseason. Bradfield hasn’t usually been a starter entering the regular season for the Jaguars, but he has been valuable as a swing tackle. That’s a role he played last season, starting 11 games at left tackle following an injury to Joeckel. With Pasztor out until at least Week 2 with a fractured hand, Bradfield almost certainly will start the season as the Jaguars’ right tackle. “I feel very confident and comfortable with Cam,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said. With the offensive line still searching for the right combination at center/guard, Bradfield will need to be more than experienced. He’ll need to be solid and reliable as the Jaguars look for early-season continuity up front.
2. LaRoy Reynolds. The second-year veteran from Virginia was expected to be a backup linebacker this season, but circumstances changed. While free-agent signee Dakoda Watson originally was expected to be the team’s starting Otto linebacker, Watson missed the offseason and the first three weeks of training camp after undergoing sports hernia surgery. Watson is back this week, but Reynolds played well enough in his absence that he remains No. 1 on the depth chart. Asked who would start at Otto Friday against Detroit, Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said he didn’t know, adding, “It’s a competition right now.” Babich also said, “LaRoy has done a good job and he’s gotten better throughout the OTAs, training camp and the two games that he’s played in. So we’re excited about that but there’s a competition going on. Dekoda – he hasn’t had many practices so he’s just working to get better and as we go on he’ll progress.” Reynolds’ athleticism and intensity has long made the Jaguars believe he had the potential to contribute significantly. How he plays in the final two preseason games could determine if he contributes as a starter or a reserve.
3. Allen Hurns. The rookie free-agent wide receiver has done more than play his way into a potential roster spot; he has played his way into a potential contributing role. That’s notable for player who went undrafted, and who arrived in a rookie class that included two second-round wide receivers, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Hurns, who played collegiately at the University of Miami for two seasons for Fisch, perhaps doesn’t have Lee’s natural quickness or Robinson’s physicality, but he has proven to be reliable and consistent – two traits as critical as they are unusual for a young wide receiver. With Robinson still out with a hamstring injury, Hurns will be one of the team’s top three receivers Friday along with Lee and veteran Cecil Shorts III. It’s Shorts’ first game coming back from a hamstring injury, so he isn’t expected to go deep into the game. That should mean yet another opportunity for Hurns to work with the starters. He has taken advantage of that so far, catching six passes for a team-high 117 yards in two preseason games. The greater the reliability and productivity of Hurns, the less concerned the Jaguars are – for the short-term anyway – over the pace of Robinson’s return.