The Jaguars are Big Easy bound.
The Mercedes Benz SuperDome is the site of the Jaguars' second 2012 preseason game. That means Bourbon Street, followed by the Saints' first home game since the whole BountyGate thing. We'll resist a very real temptation to write more clichéd Cajun slang/bayou-related references, because there are a few points to be made about Friday night.
One, it's going to be intense.
The Saints' fans haven't seen their team since a turbulent offseason, so there is going to be more than the normal crowd noise for a preseason game – more than the normal energy, too.
Two, even beyond the atmosphere, it's a good test for the Jaguars.
They looked good – really good at times – against the Giants last week, and as a result the Saints aren't the only team that will have energy Friday. The vibe around the Jaguars is positive right now, too. There's no question the Jaguars want to maintain that.
But while the Jaguars want to win, more important is playing well and improving.
And there was a third point: Justin Blackmon will make his debut Friday.
Yes, there's that.
We'll get to that first, because where else would we start with when examining 10 things the Jaguars must do Friday? Here we go:
1) Get him a look – and get him in shape.Justin Blackmon looked good at times this week in practice; other times, he looked like a player who held out of camp the first 10 days. Head Coach Mike Mularkey wants to play the entire starting unit for a half. That will include Blackmon so long as he appears to be conditioned enough to be effective.
2) Keep Gabbert going.His start Friday was as good as anyone could have hoped. Forget the criticism about what happened after that. That's not what matters. What matters is turning one good series into a consistent, even performance.
3) Get open again.The receivers showed they can do this against the Giants. They showed it again in practice this week. Significant progress is being made here. If they can do it again, it may something we get used to seeing.
4) Pressure Drew Brees.Sacking him will be tough. Brees throws on timing, and the ball comes out quick. But the Jaguars want to establish a pass rush in the preseason. Making Brees uncomfortable would be a significant step.
5) Play through the crowd.The crowd a factor in the preseason? More than likely, considering the circumstances. The Jaguars piped crowd noise into practice this week anticipating it will be an issue Friday. Gabbert and the offense will get some needed experience in hostile conditions.
6) Get him in and get him out.Rashad Jennings rested for two practices early this week. That's smart. He has shown he can run, and catch. Get him enough reps to get decent work, and get him out of the game. It has reached a point where you're confident in what he can do.
7) Get the young guy time.Center Mike Brewster worked at backup center this week because John Estes it out for an extended period. Because Brewster is a rookie that's not ideal, and if the season started today, Uche Nwaneri probably would move over if Brad Meester was unavailable. Still, depth at center is an issue. Brewster needs time at the spot, as do Nwaneri and rookie Drew Nowak.
8) Keep him in one spot.Cameron Bradfield has moved into the starting right tackle role. Mularkey said the team moved Bradfield around too much last week, having him play guard and left tackle. It's time to put him in the right side and see what he can do.
9) Throw Lewis the ball.Tight end Marcedes Lewis is going to be a key part of this offense. He had a good day in practice Wednesday, catching a pair of red-zone touchdown passes. The Jaguars need him to be productive in the red zone this season. Give him a chance to get ready for that.
10) Maintain momentum.In a normal year, preseason would matter little. Winning still is secondary to improving, but the Jaguars had a positive energy and a vibe after the Giants game. Go to New Orleans. Play with energy against a good team again. Keep that feeling going.