JACKSONVILLE – It's prime time at EverBank Field.
And although it's still the preseason, this week's version of football at the 'Bank is Preseason Week 3, and that gives this nationally-televised game from Jacksonville a more real feeling than otherwise might be the case.
No, when the Jaguars play host to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at 8 p.m. on NBC, the game won't matter in the regular season.
But Preseason Week 3 is the NFL's dress-rehearsal preseason game, with starters often playing into the third quarter. So, no, it's not the regular season …
But it is the closest thing.
As such, it could prove a decent gauge for this young Jaguars team, a group that has looked very good on offense and not bad on defense during the starters' playing time in two preseason games. The Bengals are one of the NFL's most talented teams and figure to push deep into the playoffs this season. They certainly represent the Jaguars' toughest matchup of the preseason.
As was the case in the first two preseason games, final score pales in importance to feeling, and how the Jaguars' front-line players far will determine that feeling.
What do the Jaguars need to do Sunday to make that feeling a good one?
Here are 10 things:
1.Do what you've done.This is particularly true on offense. The Jaguars' first unit has looked very good, scoring 24 points on five preseason possessions. The two-game start for this group couldn't have been better. Keep it going one more week and carry momentum into the season.
2.See what Kelvin Beachum can do and …All indications throughout the week were that Beachum will make his first start with the Jaguars Sunday. After missing the first two preseason games while returning from an anterior cruciate ligament tear, the veteran practiced throughout the week. If he plays, he'll start at left tackle, where he is competing with Luke Joeckel for the starting position. All was positive for Beachum all week, but a Preseason Week 3 game is a bigger test than a Preseason Week 3 practice.
3…. decide on a left tackle.Head Coach Gus Bradley realistically won't begin his post-game presser by announcing the Week 1 starting left tackle, but this game figures to be the last chance to decide on this position. Joeckel played well in two preseason starts. How well does Beachum have to play to win the position? Many observers seem to think it's Beachum's job to lose. Bradley said this past week the job's still very much open. Stay tuned.
4.Run, run, run.This is an extension of No. 1, because as good as quarterback Blake Bortles and the passing game have looked thus far, it has been the running game that has keyed the positive preseason vibe around the offense. The Bengals have a very good defensive front. If the Jaguars can run effectively against it, confidence entering the season should and will be high.
Take a look back at practice images from Thursday as the Jaguars prepare to host Cincinnati on Sunday.
5.Learn the routine. This isn't exciting, but when coaches look at Preseason Week 3, off-field routine may be as important as anything in-game. Much of this took place during the week with the team meeting and game-planning as it would before a regular-season game. On Sunday, it will be about making halftime adjustments and executing off those adjustments for a series early in the third quarter.
6.Get a sack – or a pressure.This is about Leo end Dante Fowler Jr. He got little pressure a week ago against the Buccaneers and remains in the process of learning the NFL. That doesn't mean he's ineffective. It means he's young and learning. But some success in Week 3 would be a positive sign. He'll have significantly more opportunities Sunday, with the starters expected to play into the third quarter.
7.Get a turnover – or two.Last week's first-quarter interception by cornerback Dwayne Gratz was a good sign – and the first takeaway of the preseason unquestionably gave the Jaguars' defense a lift. This is a defense that believes it will force more turnovers this season. The personnel suggests that should be the case. Getting a couple of more against a very good offense would continue to set the right tone.
8.Protect Bortles. Combine this with elements of No. 4 (run, run, run …) and you have one of the major storylines of the offseason. Many considered the Jaguars offensive line a weakness entering the offseason/preseason. Through two games, it has looked like a strength. Is it for real? We won't know for sure until the regular season, but a third consecutive solid preseason performance would be a strong indication of a strong line.
9.Showcase Allen Robinson.Actually, this isn't necessary. Throw him a pass or two if you want, but the Jaguars know what Robinson can do. The same is true of Allen Hurns, T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory. Showcase those players? No. Get them a few repetitions and a few series and then if you want to get them out of the game … absolutely. Which of course leads us to …
10.Stay healthy.So far, so good on the injury front for the Jaguars … so, getting out of this game into the regular-season opener is the No. 1 goal.