BALTIMORE, Md. – Josh Allen provided reason for optimism.
And make no mistake:
If Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone smiled sparingly following a one-sided loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Thursday's preseason opener, his grin was decidedly wide when discussing the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
"I feel really good about where he is," Marrone said of Allen, the rookie edge rusher.
Allen, who had 17 sacks as a senior at the University of Kentucky last season, was one of the few front-line Jaguars players playing in a game in which the team held out 30 players.
"It was great experience," Allen said. "It was great to get my first game under my belt. There's a lot to improve on, but to get one out of the way was good."
Allen started Thursday at defensive end and opened the game with a tackle for a two-yard loss on the game's first play. It was his lone tackle of the game, but he looked active as a pass rusher and appeared strong against the run.
"Letting that be my first play is huge," Allen said. "It was a great confidence booster. Hopefully, I'll make a lot more plays like that and eventually get to the quarterback more."
Marrone said he liked Allen's effectiveness against the run, noting that young NFL defensive linemen often struggle early with unfamiliar offensive looks.
"I was a little concerned," Marrone said. "I know what he can do rushing the passer. It was more the run game, but he was really strong [Thursday]. He got in the backfield. Any defensive lineman coming out of college is playing different combinations of blocks. I thought he looked strong out there. He was running around. His pursuit was good."
Marrone also noted that not only was Thursday Allen's first live action with the Jaguars, he also had missed much of the team's offseason program with a knee bruise before returning to full participation early in 2019 Training Camp.
"You've got to remember: We all didn't see him that much in OTAs (organized team activities) and the mandatory minicamp, because we rested him," Marrone said. "Then we didn't see him practice, so we brought him along slowly in camp – but all of a sudden today it looked like he stepped up another level, which is what you want to see. On the opposite side, we saw guys we expected to do well but we didn't see that level step up."
Another reason Marrone wasn't smiling Thursday: 10 Jaguars penalties for 109 yards. The defense committed two penalties for 22 yards on the Ravens' lone touchdown drive – a second-quarter drive that ended with a 10-yard pass from starting quarterback Lamar Jackson to wide receiver Willie Snead. A holding penalty on rookie free-agent safety Andrew Wingard negated a 102-yard first-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown by Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole. "I talked to the team afterward and said, 'One thing we will not be is a dumb football team,''' Marrone said. "I understand there will be effort penalties that go on in the game. Those you can live with, but unforced, unnecessary errors are something we're not going to put up with. We're going to take players out or do something to that extent, but we're going to have to make sure that doesn't occur because that will hurt us winning games."
Marrone after Thursday's game spent a lot of time talking about depth – and about needing to determine roster spots after the starting lineup. "I'm trying to figure out who's going to be the depth of the team and who's going to push for a starting role," Marrone said. He lauded several defensive players following the game: safety C.J. Reavis, Allen, defensive end Dawuane Smoot, cornerback Tre Herndon and linebacker D.J. Alexander. He also said running back Alfred Blue and wide receiver Tre McBride played well offensively. "Those players are kind of what we're looking for, players to step up and do a good job -- knowing if we have any injuries or things like that during the year, we have players who have the right depth to step up," he said.
Marrone said rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew is the backup to starter Nick Foles based on games and practices, adding: "We have to figure out who's the No. 2 quarterback and just keep playing him because you're going to lose a lot of time. It's not like you have a lot of game time where it really counts, where it's live and you're hitting and things like that can happen." Minshew completed 7 of 14 passes for 46 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Marrone also said the search continues for depth everywhere on offense. "We have to keep playing these guys and see who's our backup quarterback," Marrone said. "We've got to see who our linemen are. We have to see who our tight ends are. We have to see who our fourth, fifth receivers are. It's a balance of trying to get those guys ready for the season and then figure out who's going to be the depth. That's the challenge I have."