The answers start coming on Friday night, when the Jaguars open the preseason in Philadelphia against an Eagles team heading into a new era of life without Donovan McNabb at quarterback.
As training camp heads into its final days, the Jaguars are a team of questions:
- Can they rush the passer?
- Can they protect the quarterback?
- Will their tackling be improved?
- Is their defense better?
- Who are the leaders to man the center and two guard spots?
- Is wide receiver Mike Thomas as good as he's looked in training camp?
- Can rookies Scotty McGee and Deji Karim take the punt-return and kickoff-return jobs?
- Who will be the starting safeties?
- Are there playmakers on offense other than Maurice Jones-Drew?
- Can David Garrard get it done?
One preseason game won't definitively answer any of those questions, but Friday's game at Lincoln Financial Field will start giving us hints at what those answers might
"We're moving along in our preparation. I think that's what we do right now, each day trying to get a little bit better as you prepare for the year, and this is the next step in that process," coach Jack Del Rio said when asked if his team is prepared for the start of the preseason.
The big negative heading into the preseason for the Jaguars is that their top three draft picks of the last two years, offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, are all out of action with various injuries. Monroe is nursing a knee sprain; Britton and Alualu have been sidelined by calf strains. None of the three will play in Philadelphia.
"We're just doing the best we can with what we have right now. I think the guys that are playing are taking advantage of the opportunities and we have a lot that we need to work through as a football team so those that are out are on the mend and those that are playing we're expecting to play well," Del Rio added.
One of the feature attractions in Friday's game will be the competition at the three interior offensive line positions, where Brad Meester, Vince Manuwai, Uche Nwaneri, Kynan Forney and Justin Smiley are locked in battle. Friday's game will likely bring some clarity to the competition.
"I think the first step in elevated excitement level and maybe anxiety level for some was the scrimmage or the inter-squad work with Atlanta, and I think it just gets ramped up a little bit more when you start playing against somebody else. They'll keep score; their crowd and attendance. You're playing a game; there's a final score that you're going to flash up on the screen. I think these guys look forward to that so there'll be some excitement for sure," Del Rio said.