JACKSONVILLE – Doug Marrone made clear his immediate objective.
It’s unsurprising considering the Jaguars’ head coach’s background as a former offensive line coach – and considering the team rushed for just 2.8 yards per carry in Thursday’s preseason home opener.
“We want to get the line solidified – probably the big priority right now for me,” Marrone said late Thursday night following a 24-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Preseason Week 2 at TIAA Bank Field.
One reason for the struggles of the offensive line:
Four of five projected starters – left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder and right tackle Jawaan Taylor – have yet to play in the preseason. Taylor, Norwell and Robinson have dealt with varying degrees of injuries, and Linder has been held out of the first two preseason games by coaches’ decision.
The team also is searching for its starting right guard, with longtime starter A.J. Cann, second-year veteran Will Richardson and second-year veteran Brandon Thomas competing.
Cedrick Ogbuehi and Leonard Wester – free agents signed in the offseason – started at tackle against the Eagles, with Richardson and Cann starting at guard and veteran guard/center Tyler Shatley starting at center.
The group struggled to protect quarterback Gardner Minshew at times, and the Jaguars finished the night with 59 yards rushing on 21 carries.
“From the offensive line, we didn’t really ever establish the running game,” Marrone said. “I think the thing I was most disappointed, I’d want more push inside. I’d want to be able to get up to that second level to create some more seams.
“You’d just like to see more out of our guys. Our guys have done a good job. They’ve worked hard. It’s going to be a tough battle.”
Marrone said he believes getting the starting line together will help but said a priority must be determining the backups and swing players.
“When everyone comes back and everyone is healthy, the guys that are coming back play like they’ve played before, I think that’s good – or play as well as they were playing before they were injured, that will be good, but we’ve got to figure out where the rest of these guys go,” Marrone said. “That’s really the thing in my mind that I want to get that done first. That’s what we want to do.”
One player who has stood out throughout training camp continued to do so Thursday. That’s cornerback Breon Borders, a first-year veteran from Duke who originally joined the Jaguars’ practice squad in October and who signed to the active roster with two games remaining last regular season. “He’s a guy that has been watching a lot of eyes,” Marrone said. Border has been active in practice and defensed two passes against the Eagles. “That’s how corners get paid, and that’s how they don’t get cut,” Borders said. “I’m trying to put good tape out there – for my coaches, for everyone. Getting your hands on the ball … that’s the name of the game for a corner. That’s the name of the game.” Marrone also lauded cornerbacks Tre Herndon and Tae Hayes, noted that Herndon has been making plays throughout training camp. “That’s an encouraging part of where that is,” Marrone said of the cornerback position as a whole.
Marrone bemoaned the Jaguars allowing long runs early in the game. “That’s something we really worked hard on,” Marrone said. “When you look back, that’s not what we want to do. Obviously, that’s something we need to improve on.” The Jaguars not only allowed running back Miles Sanders an easy 12-yard run up the middle on the game’s first play, they allowed running back Jordan Howard a nine-yard run on the next series. Marrone also noted that the Jaguars allowed quarterback Cody Kessler to escape the pocket for a first down early. “That’s something that’s hurt us in the past,” Marrone said.
Also continuing to push for a roster spot: wide receiver Tre McBride, who caught four passes for 47 yards and who had a would-be 36-yard touchdown reception called back because of a holding penalty called on Wester. McBride, a fourth-year veteran from William and Mary, has developed a rapport with Minshew – and has stood out in practice in recent weeks. He also has been contributing as a special-teams player, which will be key as he tries to make the roster as a fifth or sixth wide receiver. “Tre is a super savvy guy,” Minshew said of McBride. “You can tell he’s played a lot of ball. He does a lot of savvy things and makes it easy on us quarterbacks. He’s fun to throw to, for sure.”