If you're looking for a genuine glimpse of NFL-caliber football in the preseason, then this Friday's game against the Chicago Bears is as good as it gets.
The third game is traditionally the best the preseason has to offer, as starters will remain in the game through most or all of the third quarter. In the Jaguars' case, this Friday's game in Champaign, Ill., also presents a sense of urgency for a winless club that has deep concerns about its ability to score.
Last season concluded for the Jaguars with a 33-13 loss in Chicago. Relative to that performance, where are the Jaguars today? The first three quarters of Friday's game will give us some indication. We may use it as a measuring stick.
On that cold Jan. 6 in Soldier Field, the Bears defense allowed the Jaguars to do little more than play pitch and catch at short distances. Keenan McCardell caught nine passes for 93 yards, with a long of 16; Jimmy Smith caught seven passes for 63 yards, with a long of 22. It was good stuff for reaching contract incentives, but not for winning football games.
Stacey Mack had a 6.0 yards-per-carry rushing average, but carried the ball only 11 times. That was mostly the result of the Jaguars defense's inability to get the Bears offense off the field. Behind rookie Anthony Thomas' 160 yards rushing, the Bears dominated time of possession.
Clearly, the Jaguars' situation has changed. McCardell is gone and Smith remains a holdout, but Fred Taylor is back in the lineup and, all of a sudden, there's reason to believe the Jaguars should embrace the run and discard the pass.
So, if that's the case, let's see it in Champaign on Friday night. Take the gloves off Taylor and give him the ball. How about 15-20 carries? Let's see where he's at after having missed nearly all of last season. And let's see if the rebuilt Jaguars defense is capable of offering more resistance than last season's group did against the Bears.
The passing game has been a training camp disaster. So what? Play defense and run the ball. Do it the hard way. It's how real teams play.
That's the significance of Friday's game: A real test for real players.