JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics that are becoming clearer as Sunday’s game between the Eagles and Jaguars approaches …
1. The Eagles’ tempo is real … Make no mistake: the stories you’re reading this week about the Eagles’ up-tempo offense? They’re dead-on, and tempo is a significant topic in meeting rooms as the Jaguars game plan for Philadelphia. To listen to reserve Otto linebacker Dekoda Watson, there’s little choice but to factor in up-tempo when preparing for Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly’s offense, which last season set what is believed to be an NFL record by running a play every 23.8 seconds. “We definitely have to be on our Ps and Qs and be ready to go,” he said. “They’ve got weapons and they do that speed ball, so we just want to make sure we do our assignments and execute when the ball is snapped.” Watson is the only Jaguars defensive player to have faced a Chip Kelly offense in a regular season NFL game. He was with the Buccaneers when they lost to Philadelphia early last season. “That’s the offense, so if you’re not ready for it, you’re going to get hurt sometimes,” he said, adding that he hasn’t spent much time telling his teammates about what it’s like to play Philadelphia. “It’s obvious, and the coach is doing an excellent job making sure we’re prepared.”
2. Chad Henne is respected. This has been evident to anyone around the Jaguars in recent weeks and months. There’s a buzz outside EverBank Field about rookie Blake Bortles, and the Jaguars are excited about the rookie, too. But Jaguars players respect veteran quarterback Chad Henne and want to play for him. Henne was one of four team captains named by teammates this week, with the others being tight end Marcedes Lewis, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and kicker Josh Scobee. “I think it’s pretty cool,” Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. “I just get the count from (assistant to the head coach) Tyler (Wolf), and this is how it is. But it is pretty cool that the team felt that way. I said that to Chad.”
3. ”Stay in your lane – er, gap!!!” Maintaining gap integrity is always a priority for the Jaguars’ defense. As a one-gap style of defense, one player out of a lane or a gap can lead to a big running play. To hear Jaguars defensive players tell it this week, it’s an even bigger issue this week because of Eagles running back LeSean McCoy’s ability to cut back. “He can hit a home run on every single play,” Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller said. “With us being a one-gap defense, we all have to accountable and we all have to be in our gaps.” Miller said with the Jaguars’ defensive line being big and physical, the Eagles likely will try to game plan to get McCoy – who led the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing last season – to the outside, where he can take advantage of his quickness. “They’re definitely going to try to scheme that,” Miller said. “We’ve got a big defensive line. That’s our identity and they’re definitely going to try to take advantage of that. That’s where everybody being where they’re supposed to be on every play matters. It’s going to take all of us, because this guy can break one tackle, take one gap and if one guy’s out of place, it’s a home run.”
4. The rookies are ready. A major topic around the Jaguars this week is the youth of the wide receivers – and with reason. Of the team’s top four receivers, three – Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson – are rookies. Lee and Robinson were selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, with Lee flashing in the preseason and Robinson showing signs of being productive despite missing the preseason with a hamstring injury. Hurns, an undrafted free-agent, was the surprise of the trio, but there’s a strong feeling around the Jaguars more than a feel-good training camp story – and that he can be a productive part of a developing receiving corps. He plays fast and has shown no signs of the NFL being too big for him. “I know it’s rare,” fourth-year veteran Cecil Shorts III said of playing three rookie receivers, “but you have to be confident in those guys. We are confident that they’ll go out and make plays. I think they all can be very, very good barring injury. They’re all rookies right now, but they’re preparing well and asking the right questions. I think they’ll be fine.”
5. Gus Bradley is ready. The Jaguars’ head coach is rarely unenthusiastic, and he probably would be ready to play a game in February. But if there was an indication of what the regular-season opener means around an NFL franchise, it came early in Bradley’s meeting with the media. Talking about practice Wednesday, Bradley talked about being able to see the difference in energy in a team that typically practices with high energy. “You can tell it’s on,” he said. Indeed.