JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays that shaped the Jaguars' 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the 2021 preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Saturday
- Jaguars first play from scrimmage. Really? The first play from scrimmage? A key? It is when the play marks the first NFL snap for the No. 1 overall selection in a draft – and a presumed franchise quarterback of the future. That was the case for the Jaguars Saturday, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence lining up in shotgun formation on their first play from scrimmage. That officially answered the question of who would start at quarterback the preseason opener, a question left unanswered by Head Coach Urban Meyer throughout the week. It was the beginning of an era, with Lawrence having a fairly typical first NFL rookie appearance. He completed six of nine passes for 71 yards and left teammates optimistic about the future. "The kid understands it," center Brandon Linder said. "He sees it. He's only going to get better."
- Early passes defensed by Shaquill Griffin and CJ Henderson. Two defensive backs key to the Jaguars made plays early Saturday, with cornerback CJ Henderson particularly standing out. Henderson, the No. 9 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, ran step for step with Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on a deep route in the first quarter – and broke up the pass for an incompletion 40 yards downfield. This came on Henderson's first series replacing Tre Herndon, who left with a knee injury. Griffin, one of the Jaguars' highest-profile offseason free-agent signings, started opposite Herndon and had a pass break up against Peoples-Jones on the Browns' second series. Henderson broke up another pass midway through the second quarter to force the Browns' second field goal. That was a good start to the preseason for Henderson, a player the Jaguars need to play to his potential this season.
- Cooke continues to shine. A trend that began in recent seasons and continued throughout Jaguars 2021 Training Camp continued Saturday – and that was the reliable play of veteran punter Logan Cooke. The fourth-year veteran signed a contract extension this offseason and has been impressive throughout the practices leading into Saturday's preseason opener. Cooke punted four times Saturday for a 55.0-yard average with a long punt of 60 and two inside the 20.
- Impressive opening. On a night on which little went right early offensively for the Jaguars, the performance early in the third quarter by CJ Beathard stood out. Beathard, whose repetitions had been limited in camp compared to Lawrence and veteran Gardner Minshew II, opened with a solid drive to start the third quarter and followed that with a drive for the Jaguars only touchdown. Beathard completed 13 of 16 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Beathard's big play of the game: a five-yard touchdown pass to veteran wide receiver Tavon Austin that cut the Browns' lead to 16-6 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
- DaVon Hamilton sheds block. The Jaguars trailed 13-0 at halftime and had been outgained 240-120 at that point, but there were early highlights from their starters and front-line players. One play that stood out came early in the second quarter, when second-year defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton shed a block on the interior of the line and stuffed running back John Kelley for no gain on 1st-and-10 from Jaguars 16. "He has the ability to be the best nose tackle in the whole NFL," defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen said. "We tell him that. Everybody tells him that and I truly believe – and everybody truly believes that he can be the best nose tackle." Other early highlight players from young Jaguars players: rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell also had nice pass defensed on a pass from quarterback Kyle Lauletta to running back Demetric Felton in the end zone to prevent a touchdown late in the second quarter and keep the Browns' lead at 6-0. Campbell later allowed a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Davion Davis in the second quarter. Jaguars rookie safety Andre Cisco had a pass breakup late in the first half on a pass to tight end Jordan Franks and rookie cornerback Corey Straughter had a nice pass breakup on a long pass down the sideline in the fourth quarter. Rookie edge defender Jordan Smith batted a pass at the line of scrimmage late in the fourth quarter.