A Jaguars team with high expectations for the 2008 season will try on Saturday to give its fans reason to believe in now. Yeah, it's just a preseason game but, on the heels of a downer performance a week ago, the Jaguars would like to kick it up a notch against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.
"We're going to continue to coach and drive and demand and push and prod and get this football team to be as good as it can be. We expect to be better week to week. It ought to be fun," coach Jack Del Rio said on Thursday.
It wasn't fun in a 19-14 loss to the Dolphins last Saturday, as the number one and two offenses were blanked. Against the Bucs, quarterback David Garrard will try to hit the stride that made him the big hit of last year's preseason and beyond.
Garrard needs better pass-protection from his offensive line and more explosiveness from a wide receiving corps that hasn't produced a go-to guy through the first two games. Reggie Williams returns to action this week and it's hoped he'll give the passing game a lift.
The Jaguars defense didn't escape criticism for its performance against the Dolphins. Defensive end Reggie Hayward returns to action and it's hoped his return will at least stimulate improvement in the run-defense.
Here are some particular points of interest in Saturday night's game:
• Wide receiver—Is Williams fully recovered from his knee surgery? He said he is. Also, will anybody else step up and take the lead toward a roster spot? Mike Walker has done some nice things, but has also dropped some balls. Matt Jones was said to have had a strong training camp, but he hasn't done anything special in two preseason games. Troy Williamson appeared to still be favoring his leg injury in the game against the Dolphins, and rather lackluster play at the position overall has allowed longshot wide receiver Ryan Hoag to jump into the mix. Will anybody jump into the lead against the Bucs, or will Jaguars fans have to pin their hopes at the position on Jerry Porter's recovery from hamstring surgery?
• Left tackle—In training camp, Khalif Barnes quickly regained the starting job from Richard Collier, who had taken it in the spring. Barnes, however, had a rough night against the Dolphins' Matt Roth. Will Barnes keep Collier at arm's length or will Collier narrow the gap? One of those two has to be the answer at left tackle or it's going to be a long season for Garrard.
• Defensive end—Hayward has battled back from Achilles surgery that cost him his quick first step in pass-rush, but the hope is Hayward can still be an every-downs defensive end who can hold up against the run. With first-round pick Derrick Harvey still unsigned, the need for an every-downs defensive end is the Jaguars' top priority and Hayward would seem to be the only legitimate candidate to fill the need. Hayward is coming off a two-week bout with a hamstring injury.
• The pass-rush—New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to attack, but does he have the players to do it? Second-rounder Quentin Groves was picked to be a speed rusher off the edge but he wasn't used in that capacity against the Dolphins and the results were disappointing. We might get a look on Saturday night at Williams' plans for using Groves this season.
• Linebacker—The Justin Durant vs. Clint Ingram battle for the third starting job continues. Durant has the lead but Ingram hasn't halted his pursuit. This is the kind of competition Del Rio likes and would probably like to see at wide receiver.
• Quarterback—Cleo Lemon is the backup but his performance against Miami was weak and Todd Bouman followed it by leading the Jaguars to their only two touchdowns of the night. So what does it mean? Has Bouman put himself into a battle for the backup job? Has he at least given Del Rio reason to consider keeping three quarterbacks?
• Strong safety—It's Brian Williams' job but Gerald Sensabaugh is pushing hard. Coach Del Rio would no doubt like to see Williams respond against the Bucs.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and rainy weather is predicted. Both teams are expected to play their starters into the second half, in what is considered to be the closest thing the preseason has to offer to a regular-season game.