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Degree of satisfaction in opener


It was a great game, if you like field goals, which coach Tom Coughlin really doesn't, but Coughlin seemed satisfied by his Jaguars' performance in their 18-16 win in the preseason opener Friday night.

His young players provided performances on which they could build, and his veteran players got in and out of the game without injury. Maybe that was the best news to have come out of the Jaguars' win over the visiting Carolina Panthers.

It was a night of satisfaction for middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, a 15-year veteran who was playing his first football since November of last year, when knee surgery ended his season and cast doubt on his future.

"If all of our guys are healthy, there's no doubt in my mind we can be one of the better defenses in the league. It felt good to go out there and fly around a little bit," Nickerson said.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was the professional debut of players such as first-round draft choice Marcus Stroud, who was on the field for 15 plays, despite a massive cast that was protecting his broken right hand.

"I feel like I played fairly decent," Stroud said in self-assessment.

Another rookie on whom the Jaguars are relying is second-round offensive tackle Maurice Williams, who maintains his hold on the starting right tackle job and played through the first half. Other than for a blown assignment on one play, Williams held his own against Jay Williams and Chris Slade, and gave further reason to believe he can close the learning gap between now and the regular-season opener on Sept. 9 against the Steelers.

"I was excited to go out there and have my name called out in the starting lineup," Williams said.

Mark Brunell, Fred Taylor and company opened the game with a 14-play, 59-yard drive that produced the first of six Mike Hollis field goals. Taylor carried six times for nine yards, and Brunell completed five of seven passes for 50 yards. With those efforts, Brunell, Taylor and offensive tackle Tony Boselli retired to the bench.

"I didn't have a good feel for it. I needed a couple of more carries. I need a little work. I'm a little rusty," Taylor said.

He will get all the work he needs, soon. As it is, his six carries against the Panthers are twice as many as Taylor had in all of last year's preseason, when he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him until the fourth game of the regular season.

Hollis kicked field goals of 38, 35, 48, 47, 47 and 18 yards. The final boot was the game-winner with 18 seconds to play. It was set up by a 45-yard gain by undrafted rookie free agent Elvis Joseph, who manipulated his way across the field with a screen pass to the Carolina two-yard line.

The game's dramatics were supplied by Carolina kicker John Kasay, who barely missed on a 60-yard try on the final play of the game.

Carolina scored the only touchdowns of the game on a 52-yard run by rookie wide receiver Steve Smith on a reverse, and on a four-yard pass from rookie quarterback Chris Weinke to wide receiver Darryl Daniel.

Hollis' only miss of the game was a wide-left effort from 49 yards. The veteran kicker, who has been openly critical of his contract and the Jaguars' reluctance to pay him market value, appeared to be in midseason form.

"That's in the back of my mind right now," he said of his contract dissatisfaction. "I don't think too much about that."

Neither does Coughlin, whose more pressing concerns are the right side of his offensive line, the need for improvement on defense, and a lack of overall roster depth.

The performances of Williams at right tackle and Aaron Koch at right guard were promising, the defense was respectable, and reserve personnel such as defensive end Paul Spicer and rookie safeties James Boyd and Marlon McCree gave Coughlin a degree of overall contentment. Of course, it was just the preseason opener.

"I think we've got some football players," Nickerson said, referring to the young players who debuted for the Jaguars. "For it being their first game at this level, you could expect them to make some mistakes, but they showed they were hungry."

"The big difference is we've had a lot of time together," guard Brad Meester said in comparing this year's offensive line to the one that was so troubled by injuries last summer. "We've got a unit that's been together since the beginning of training camp."

If there was a sour note from the win, it was reserve quarterback Jonathan Quinn's inability to produce a touchdown. Quinn played almost three-quarters of the game, but suffered a stretch of game in which he threw 11 consecutive incompletions.

"Jonathan Quinn wasn't as good as Jonathan Quinn can be. There will be better days," Coughlin said.

When asked what Quinn needs to do better, Coughlin said: "Get it in the end zone."

Quinn completed only 11 of 27 passes for 86 yards, a 49.3 passer rating. He was replaced by fourth-stringer Ted White in the fourth quarter.

The punting battle was a draw. Aaron Langley punted four times for a 43.3-yard net average, which included a long boot of 53 yards and another of 41 yards that went out of bounds at the Carolina one-yard line. Langley's average suffered from a 29-yard boot in the third quarter.

Fifth-round pick David Leaverton booted three times for a 44.3-yard net average, with a long punt of 54 yards. Coughlin said he was satisfied by his two punters' performances.

Joseph joined the battle for the backup running back job, a competition that appears brighter today following a 36-yard effort by Stacey Mack and 26 yards of rushing by Shyrone Stith.

"It's good to win a football game. I thought we were physical. We made a couple of plays at the end. I was disappointed in not getting the ball into the end zone," Coughlin said.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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