JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five takeaways from the day after the Jaguars' loss to the Detroit Lions in the third game of the 2015 preseason …
1)Tough task ahead.We begin Day After takeaways with Sen'Derrick Marks – and to listen to Head Coach Gus Bradley is to get a feeling it will be difficult for the defensive tackle to play in the regular-season opener. That has been Marks' goal since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in mid-January after sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the regular-season finale against Houston last season. Marks, who had a team-high 8.5 sacks last season, passed a quad strength test this past week and maintains hope he will play against Carolina at EverBank Field September 13. "It's tough to say," Bradley said of Marks' chances of playing against Carolina. "I don't want to take away his spirit of thinking that it could. There are some barriers that we have to overcome to get him to that point, but in his mind he's going to be ready, and in our doctor and trainers' minds he's going to be ready. He's got a shot, and that's just what we're going off of. But is it a challenge, [an] uphill battle? Yes, it is." Bradley said if Marks is ready he will play three-technique tackle with Jared Odrick at strong-side end and Tyson Alualu rotating with Odrick. If Marks isn't ready, Alualu likely will play the three-technique.
2)The pass rush is more committee than ever. The Jaguars learned early Saturday they will be without Andre Branch to start the season because of a sprained medial collateral ligament sustained against Detroit. While Branch had not had a sack in the preseason, the news was a blow to the team's pass rush. Branch was starting at the Leo position; his loss means the Jaguars must be more creative in an area where they already had been experimenting with blitzes to create pressure in base packages. With rookie Leo Dante Fowler Jr. out for the season with a torn ACL, with Marks still returning, and with Chris Clemons – last year's starting Leo – now apparently in a third-down role, the Jaguars already were without a dominant edge rusher. Now, even more of a group effort will be needed to approach last season's total of 45 sacks. "Guys will step up, but it's always tough when you lose a guy like that," Bradley said.
3)Doin' work. The Jaguars haven't determined playing time for Thursday's preseason finale at Washington, but expect starters' repetitions to be limited. That's particularly true on offense. The first-team offense has scored on eight of 11 drives in three preseason games, with the extended nature of many of those drives meaning the unit already has gotten extensive work. The unit reached its planned 35 plays in Preseason Week 2 against the New York Giants quickly enough it left midway through the second quarter although the plan was to play longer. On Friday, the first-team offense had three drives of more than 80 yards with two touchdown drives, a field goal drive and another that ended inside the Lions 5-yard line. "Our first team offense has had a lot of plays so far in the preseason," Bradley said. "I think that will go into consideration to how much they'll play going into this game. Same defensively – not as many players as the first-team offense, but we'll look at their play count compared to what they've had in the past."
4)Striking improvement I.The offensive line continues to be one of the Jaguars' major stories of the preseason, with the first-team line not allowing a sack Friday. The Jaguars as a team allowed 71 sacks last season, though not all were directly on the line. Bradley cited returning players (left tackle Luke Joeckel, right guard Brandon Linder and left guard Zane Beadles), the addition of right tackle Jermey Parnell and center Stefen Wisniewski through free agency and the addition of Doug Marrone as offensive line coach as major reasons for the improvement, but also said the group appeared to be playing with a chip on their shoulder. "I think what took place last year with some of these guys with the number of sacks, they felt like that's not them. That's not how they want to be represented. I think that really motivated them in the offseason. I know it motivated us to continue to look how we can improve it and make it more competitive there. They want to be coached hard, they want precision and they're demanding it in many ways because they don't want to go through something like that again."
5)Still progressing.Speaking of the offensive line, though Joeckel had a series in the second quarter when he appeared to give up a pressure, Bradley on Saturday said the team continues to see progress from the third-year veteran. "One of the issues in the past has been the power, the speed to power," Bradley said. "He had a couple of them last night and the week before and you're seeing him making really good improvement on that." Bradley also noted reserve guard Tyler Shatley, who played 71 plays Friday. "We talked last week about (center Luke) Bowanko being that sixth guy in the offensive line, playing multiple positions," Bradley said. "I think you could throw Shatley into that conversation who could be that guy as well. We'll see how it plays out." Bradley also mentioned rookie A.J. Cann in that group.