FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – This week is about reserves more than starters.
That's a big truth about the Jaguars' preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons Saturday, with it also true that the game still matters to Doug Pederson. A lot. And for a very personal reason.
"It meant a lot for me, when I played," Pederson said Thursday shortly before the Jaguars' second joint practice in as many days with the Falcons.
Pederson, his first season as the Jaguars' head coach, spoke about multiple topics Thursday. Among them: right tackle, where Jawaan Taylor and Walker Little have worked with the first team throughout 2022 Training Camp and preseason.
“Jawaan has really played consistent and played well,” Pederson said. “Walker’s right there with him. It’s still a little bit of a competition. They both have done some really good things...We’ve got to make a decision soon because we’re getting ready for Week 1.”
Pederson said both players could play Saturday, but he said earlier this week few projected starters will play in the '22 preseason finale at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – a game mostly about players competing for spots near the bottom of the 53-player regular-season roster.
Pederson spent 13 seasons as a reserve quarterback in the NFL and was released six times.
"I was the guy playing [in the final preseason game]," Pederson said. "That's my message to the guys who are going to play, the guys who are going to get opportunities. I don't want to say it's the end of the road because there are 31 teams looking at these rosters.
"It can be, 'Put your best foot forward.' It may not be with the Jaguars. It may be somewhere else. That's the encouraging part for me, allowing them to go out and play, relax, do their job and have fun.''
All NFL teams must trim rosters to 53 players next week. The Jaguars currently have 81 players with a roster exemption for defensive back Ayo Oyelola, who is eligible for the NFL's international player practice squad exemption.
"It's hard," Pederson said of next week's cutdown day. "It's the hardest part of our business. Trying to get from 80 to 53, it's a lot of guys. It's a lot of lives. I was one of those guys, but it's not that their hopes and dreams are over, it's just that they may have to go somewhere else."
Here's a look at Thursday's practice:
PLAY OF THE DAY
- This came from inside linebacker Foye Oluokun, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March after four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Oluokun, who led the NFL in tackles in 2021, broke on an underneath pass from Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota and returned the interception down the left sideline for a possible touchdown in 11-on-11 work. "It was great," Oluokun said. "[Falcons Head] Coach [Arthur] Smith made a joke about return on investment, that I might as well make one play if I was going to leave for that much. It was nice to do that against the Falcons."
- Jaguars kicker James McCourt, a rookie claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers Tuesday, converted eight of eight field goals Thursday with several coming from long range. …
- Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a day after connecting for two red-zone touchdowns, connected for the Jaguars' longest play of either joint practice against the Falcons – a long touchdown on a post pattern down the deep middle of the field. …
- Lawrence several plays before the long touchdown to Kirk connected with running back Travis Etienne Jr., finding the second-year veteran down the right sideline after scrambling in that direction. ..
- Jaguars wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. caught two intermediate passes over the middle, one from quarterback Jake Luton and another from quarterback E.J. Perry. …
- Jaguars rookie linebacker Chad Muma had an interception early in practice. …
- Running back James Robinson for a second consecutive day practiced in team drills but not in a "full-contact" capacity. "It really looks like he's been out there several weeks now," Pederson said of Robinson, who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in late December. "Hopefully the yellow jersey [denoting an injured player] will come off soon."
- Offensive lineman Will Richardson Jr. (ankle) and defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi (calf) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, and aren't expected to play Saturday.