LANDOVER, Md. – Senior writer John Oehser's five takeaways from the Jaguars' 17-16 victory over the Washington Redskins in the 2015 preseason finale Thursday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
1.A night for rest, looking ahead.With 33 players ruled out before kickoff, Thursday was no night for front-line position battles. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said resting starters was not only about first-team health, but keeping starters fresh and preparing for the September 13 regular-season opener against Carolina at EverBank Field. End Chris Smith was the lone Jaguars starter to play Thursday. "It's always a challenge, what to do," Bradley said after the Jaguars' victory. "I felt like we could really get a head start on some of the things with Carolina. I felt like in practice we could go our one defense versus our one offense to keep the skills sharp as well as our conditioning. I thought we could work harder with those guys, knowing they weren't going to play and tax them a little more as far as conditioning and being ready to play." The Jaguars must trim the roster from 75 to 53 players by Saturday at 4 p.m. "We've got some tough decisions," Bradley said. "Tomorrow (Friday) is going to be difficult for us as a coaching staff. There are going to be some guys who played tonight when the regular season starts – I know that."
2.A rare opportunity.With both starting quarterback Blake Bortles and backup Chad Henne not playing, Jaguars third-team quarterback Stephen Morris started and played a complete game for the first time in two NFL seasons. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and a five-yard touchdown to wide receiver Bryan Walters. "It was a great opportunity," Morris said. "Gus always talks about opportunities: don't let them pass you by. I'm just grateful and happy I was able to do that." It made sense for Henne to not play for the same reason it made sense to not play starters or front-line players. You already know what Henne can do and he absolutely is the team's backup; there's probably not much to be gained for him or the team by risking him for a few series in the preseason finale.
3.Sticking it through.Jason Myers wasn't perfect in his first game as the Jaguars' kicker, but Bradley liked the first-year player's performance. Myers, who became the kicker Monday when the team traded long-time kicker Josh Scobee, missed wide from 56 yards in the first quarter, but kicked a 47-yarder with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Jaguars a 17-16 victory. "It was good," Bradley said. "The first one he pushed, then to get another long one … I think there was even more pressure for him because he missed the first one and he knew all eyes were watching him – and he nailed it. His demeanor was awesome, even after that first one. When he went out for that second one – really pleased with how he handled it." All four of Myers' kickoffs were touchbacks.
4.Speed, baby, speed.Nothing is known until the Jaguars make moves to cut the roster to 53 players, but this has the feel of a five-running back team. T.J. Yeldon appears to be the Week 1 starter, with Denard Robinson the backup and Toby Gerhart the short-yardage and third-down situation back. Bernard Pierce rushed two times for 41 yards on Thursday, and appears likely to be the fourth back with running back Corey Grant continuing to push for a roster spot. Grant, who has looked impressive at times on kickoff returns, had a 40-yard touchdown run Thursday, accelerating away from the defense and scoring untouched. He rushed for 74 yards on five carries. "His (4.29-second-40-yard-dash-speed) really showed up," Bradley said. "It's something that we saw in his tape. For him to really showcase it in a game like this with his long runs is really good." Of the 40-yard touchdown, Grant said, "I was thinking touchdown, but when I saw the two safeties, I thought I was going to get caught." Asked if he ever got caught from behind, Grant laughed. No," he replied.
5.Relatively healthy.As Bradley sees it, the Jaguars' injury situation could be a lot worse. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee) is uncertain for the opener, and tight end Julius Thomas (hand) is expected to miss at least the first two games after undergoing successful surgery Wednesday, but Bradley said "Overall, I think we came out of training camp pretty healthy. Especially with the soft-tissue injuries – I thought we made good progress there. It kept us in position where we could have a lot of guys practice through all of training camp." The Jaguars sustained two injuries early Thursday, with safety Craig Loston (ankle) and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood (foot) leaving in the first half. Also Thursday, rookie seventh-round wide receiver Neal Sterling played for the first time after missing the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury. He caught three passes for 38 yards. "He really wanted this opportunity," Bradley said. "He's a big, tall athlete. He's got a learning curve, but overall he has done a nice job."