Two starting jobs, several roster spots and, maybe most importantly, the fans' hope for the Jaguars in 2010 will be at stake in Tampa on Saturday night. The Jaguars hope to score their first win of the preseason in a game-three contest against the Tampa Bay Bucs.
"I feel like we made some strides from week one to week two. We need to do the same thing this week; continue to improve," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars have been on the short side of consecutive one-point verdicts in the first two games of the preseason. Their performance against the Miami Dolphins last Saturday, however, was significantly improved over the game-one loss in Philadelphia.
Quarterback David Garrard and the first-team offense came to life against the Dolphins. What the Jaguars need this week is for its defense to come to life, which it should against a Tampa offense that was 28th in the league last season and will be without its quarterback, second-year man Josh Freeman. Backup Josh Johnson will replace Freeman.
These are tough times in Tampa. The Bucs slipped to 3-13 last year and are in the midst of a rebuilding phase that is centered on Freeman and this year's top draft pick, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The Bucs are 1-1 in the preseason, having defeated Kansas City, 20-15, last week.
Against the young Bucs, the Jaguars hope to score a win that'll get the team off the snide and allow them to use their preseason finale against Atlanta next Thursday as a tool for evaluating bubble players. Starters play the longest in the third game of the preseason and the atmosphere is usually more regular season-like than at any other time in the preseason.
The positions of greatest intensity for the Jaguars will likely be left guard and free safety. Kynan Forney has been the starter at left guard in the first two games. He's trying to hold off Justin Smiley and Vince Manuwai to claim the starting job for the season-opener. Gerald Alexander was the starter at free safety in games one and two, but had a bad outing against Miami and it's expected that Reggie Nelson will start at the position in Tampa.
Del Rio said he'll play his healthy starters into the third quarter. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has missed practice this week, which likely means he won't play against the Bucs. Others who haven't practiced this week include: middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, strongside linebacker Daryl Smith and rookie kickoff-returner Deji Karim. Right tackle Eben Britton has been out of action with a calf injury but is expected to play in Tampa.
If there's an importance that can be attached to this game for the starting units, it would be for Garrard to continue his strong play for a second straight week and keep his critics hushed, and for the Jaguars' pass-defense to show they can stop a backup quarterback from racking up yards. The Jaguars defense has allowed 406 yards passing in the first halves of the first two preseason games.
"We just need to play better on our back end," Del Rio said, referring to the two safety positions. "Our back end needs to sharpen up and avoid some of these silly plays that don't get leveraged properly and end up looking explosive. We'd like to see marked improvement in that area."
Jaguars fans would like to see it, too.