JACKSONVILLE -- Ten things to watch when the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday:
1.The performance of Chad Henne.Yes, the quarterback mystery is over, but Henne still needs to play well. While Blaine Gabbert has been named the starter for the regular-season opener, he is out with a thumb injury and – until he practices Week 1 – is uncertain. That means Henne needs a good showing in the dress rehearsal that is the third week of the preseason.* *Particularly important for the Jaguars is it's the first time Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon have played together since Game 15 last season. Henne needs to play well to get those receivers into a rhythm, particularly Shorts, who is making his first preseason appearance of 2013.
2.The last full work for Blackmon – for a while.He might play a series or two in the preseason finale, or he might not. Either way, this is the last extensive action the second-year wide receiver will get until the fifth game of the season. He looked good in the second game of the preseason, and the Jaguars would love to get him and Shorts functioning smoothly for an extended stretch to get a glimpse of what this offense can be in October.
3.The search for pass rush.The Jaguars figure Jason Babin will be a factor at the Leo position, but no player has stepped up significantly as a complement. Second-year defensive end Andre Branch played just seven plays last week against the Jets, and he hasn't made the impact coaches hoped this preseason. Watch ends Ryan Davis and Paul Hazel, but this could be a spot where the Jaguars acquire a released player after teams cut to 75 players next week.
4. A rhythm for Jones-Drew.Jones-Drew hasn't played much in the preseason lately – sparingly in 2011 and not at all last season. He played seven plays against the Jets and touched the ball four times last Saturday. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said this week he would like to see Jones-Drew play about a quarter Saturday. Whatever he plays, it's probably his last significant game work until the regular season.
5. The return of Joeckel.Joeckel didn't like sitting out last week with a hip flexor injury, not after never missing a game in three seasons at Texas A&M, but the idea was to be smart with the health of a player the Jaguars want to rely on all season. Joeckel, a game-time decision Saturday, likely won't play as much as the rest of the starters if he plays, so either way he'll probably play more than most starters in the preseason finale. Joeckel won't need a ton of reps to get ready for the regular season, but he could use a couple of series each of the next two weeks.
6. The debut of Shorts.He developed into the Jaguars' best wide receiver late last season, and showed dramatic improvement in the offseason before missing the first two preseason games with a calf strain. He said this week he felt rusty in his return to practice, and his goal is to get rid of the rust Saturday. That's important, because with Blackmon out early, the Jaguars will depend heavily on Shorts in the passing game early in the season.
- Happy returns. **The Jaguars are still searching for their punt returner. Rookie Ace Sanders can play the role, but Bradley said he's not sure if Sanders will do it Saturday. He also didn't sound as if rookie Tobais Palmer would return punts Saturday after fumbling a punt in each of the first two games. Look for Jordan Shipley and Jeremy Ebert to get a look there Saturday. This could be a way on the roster for someone.
8. Roster clues.The Jaguars need to reduce the roster from their current 88 to 75 by Tuesday, which means the second half Saturday will be about young players and a few veterans fighting for roster spots. For insight into who will be on the roster, check the second units and cross-check them with punt return, punt coverage and kick coverage and kick returns. Players playing extensively there – a group that has included players such as Julian Stanford, LaRoy Reynolds, Antwon Blake, Brandon Marshall, Steven Terrell, Kevin Rutland and Jordan Todman – have a real chance to be around next week.
9. The rise of Reynolds.He's not expected to start this week, but Reynolds – a rookie – seems like a very sure bet to make the roster. Look for him to work at middle and outside backers, and considering his athleticism and nose for the big hit – he separated two Jets players from their helmets last week – he likely will push for a starting position sooner rather than later.
10. A whole lot of moves.OK, you won't see these on game night, but with the roster deadline looming, you can probably look for them in the day or two after the game. The Jaguars will be scanning the waiver wire, which means it wouldn't be surprising to see the Jaguars cut more than the 13 players needed to reach 75. They may get down below that with the idea of signing a few to get back to that number before the preseason finale.