(Aug. 10)—The Jaguars will get their first true test of training camp in Saturday evening's preseason-opener, and fans will start to get answers to some of the major questions confronting this team.
Here are some of those issues:
• Is the preview the Jaguars passing game provided in last Friday's scrimmage an accurate portrayal of the gains being made in training camp?
• Do the Jaguars have the quality and depth they need at the safety positions?
• Can they blend the talent they have at defensive end?
• What wide receivers will move to the front of the class?
The Jaguars hope all of the answers are positive and the first returns will come against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday evening at Dolphin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised live in Jacksonville on WTEV CBS 47, and broadcast on the Jaguars Radio Network on WOKV AM/FM (690, 106.5).
Here's a position-by-position preview for Saturday's game:
Quarterback—Byron Leftwich posted impressive numbers in last Friday's scrimmage. If Leftwich does the same against the Dolphins, he will officially be a "new man" and optimism for the season will spike. Backup David Garrard was also sharp in the scrimmage and is coming off one of his best-ever training camp weeks. Leftwich is expected to play the first quarter and Garrard the second quarter. Quinn Gray's ankle was in a boot in Friday's practice and his status remains uncertain. Rookie Lester Ricard and Tim Couch could see extensive playing time in the second half.
Running back—Fred Taylor has made it through the first stage of training camp without setback. He'll probably get a couple of carries and Maurice Jones-Drew will get a few, and then look for LaBrandon Toefield and company to pound the ball the rest of the way. Toefield, Alvin Pearman and Derrick Wimbush would seem to be in a roster battle.
Wide receiver—Ernest Wilford (knee) and Matt Jones (hamstring) are nursing injuries and it's not known to what degree they'll play on Saturday. This is a big game for Reggie Williams, Charles Sharon (pictured above) and rookies Mike Walker, John Broussard and Roosevelt Kiser, as they jockey for position. Kiser is a fast-rising guy who has kick-return ability. He could be one of the big winners if he hits a home run on Saturday.
Tight end—Marcedes Lewis, George Wrighster, Jermaine Wiggins, Greg Estandia and Richard Angulo have all had outstanding training camps, and Isaac Smolko has had his moments, too. This would seem to be a battle between Estandia and Angulo for the fourth spot, if offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter does, in fact, keep four tight ends.
Offensive line—All eyes will be on Dennis Norman, as he replaces injured Brad Meester at center. Depth is the issue on the line. How far along is Richard Collier in his attempt to become a quality backup at left tackle? Can Dan Connolly offer depth at center and guard?
Defensive line—Tackle Marcus Stroud will test his ankle surgery. That's a major issue, as is end Reggie Hayward's recovery from Achilles surgery. All eyes will be on the pass-rushers at end: Bobby McCray, Brent Hawkins and Kenny Pettway. James Wyche is another end of interest.
Linebacker—A hot battle exists between Pat Thomas, Nick Greisen, Jorge Cordova, Tony Gilbert and Brian Iwuh. We get our first game look at second-round pick Justin Durant. The starting trio of Mike Peterson, Daryl Smith and Clint Ingram will get in and out quickly.
Defensive back—Scott Starks is having another top camp, but he's in a battle with Terry Cousin and Dee Webb at corner. Third-year pro Bruce Thornton has a shot. All eyes, however, will be on the safety positions, where Gerald Sensabaugh and first-round pick Reggie Nelson are trying to replace Deon Grant and Donovin Darius. Depth at safety is also a big issue. Jamaal Fudge, fifth-round pick Josh Gattis and seventh-rounder Chad Nkang will be closely scrutinized. Nelson will play a lot.
Punter—Adam Podlesh needs to do a lot better on Saturday than he did in the scrimmage. Podlesh is the man, but the Jaguars would like proof they've invested wisely.