Several players returned to action after missing time in training camp with injuries, and coach Jack Del Rio is encouraged that his team is on the mend and improving.
"We're not at full strength, yet, but we're getting closer," Del Rio said following Saturday night's storm-delayed preseason game against the visiting Miami Dolphins. The Jaguars lost, 27-26, as Del Rio elected not to attempt a two-point conversion that, had it been successful, would've sent the game into overtime.
The start of the game was delayed an hour and 50 minutes due to lightning around EverBank Field. When Del Rio elected not to attempt the two-point conversion, there was enough time left in the game to get the ball back and attempt to move into position for a game-winning field goal.
"I thought we were better tonight than we were last week," Del Rio said in overall evaluation. "I thought David (Garrard) looked good. I thought we did a better job of disrupting the quarterback."
Garrard was ineffective in a quarter of action in Philadelphia, which kicked off a week of criticism from fans. Garrard quieted such criticism, at least for a week, with a performance against the Dolphins that saw him complete six of eight passes for 79 yards, a touchdown and a 145.3 passer rating. He left the game in the second quarter when he had the wind knocked out of him while attempting a pass.
First-round draft pick Tyson Alualu made his preseason debut, as did prized free-agent acquisition Aaron Kampman. The two defensive linemen teamed up to sack quarterback Chad Henne on the first play of the game.
"He's going to be a good football player. He's going to be a difference-maker," Del Rio said of Alualu.
"This is the first time our defense has been as it's been projected to be," Kampman said of the lineup, which included Terrance Knighton and Derrick Harvey on the starting defensive line. "I'm looking forward to the season and being completely ready on Sept. 12."
Kampman is recovering from knee reconstruction. Alualu missed the game in Philadelphia due to a calf injury. Left tackle Eugene Monroe saw his first action of the preseason, after having missed time in camp with a knee sprain. Right tackle Eben Britton (calf) is expected to play in next Saturday's game in Tampa. Linebacker Justin Durant is also expected back in the lineup next week.
Wide receiver Jarett Dillard saw his first action of the preseason and caught three passes, but cornerback Rashean Mathis was held out of the game due to some hip flexor tightness. Tight end Zach Miller also didn't play, but the Jaguars got positive news this week on Miller's sore foot.
All in all, the Jaguars' arrow is pointing upward as the team turns into the second half of the preseason, but there's no denying the Dolphins' first-half yardage totals. Quarterback Chad Henne sliced and diced the Jaguars secondary in completing 11 of 14 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and a 151.2 passer rating.
"A little more than I'd like to see," Del Rio said of Miami's 245 total net yards in the first half. "It was really some basic things we'll do better. We're going to play tighter coverage. There was a lull in the second quarter."
It was in the second quarter that the Dolphins grabbed the lead by scoring 21 points and erasing a 9-3 Jaguars advantage. The Jaguars took a 2-0 lead when Rashad Jennings blocked a punt out of the end zone following the Dolphins' first possession, then regained the lead when Garrard executed a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Thomas.
Wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker was the star of the drive. After dropping two passes in Philadelphia and leaving the game with a shoulder injury, Sims-Walker came to life against Miami with three receptions for 64 yards, including a 35-yarder.
"I was glad to see that. I talked to him before the game about our need to see him. He's not an established player. He needs to show some grit," Del Rio said.
Sims-Walker said he was disappointed by his performance in Philadelphia. "I had a chip on my shoulder," he said of his attitude heading into game two of the preseason.
Del Rio challenged his team earlier in the week to win the battle of the hitting. Miami may have still claimed victory in that department, but Del Rio said his team's "pad level was better; the tackling was better. We're going to have a better front this year."