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Jaguars travel to Baltimore in Week 3 of preseason


Now, back to the preseason.

One day after a day of sound bites, press conference and news about off-field goings on, the Jaguars will leave for Baltimore, Md., where they will visit the Ravens in their third game of the 2012 preseason.

For a night, no more talk of London. Or a holdout running back.

Come Thursday, it's back to the storylines at hand, which means back to getting a look at starters and backups, to maintaining momentum and to the continued development of what thus far in this preseason has looked like a vastly improved first-team offense.

That first-team offense? Through two games, it has played about three quarters, producing three touchdowns, and enough momentum to help carry the Jaguars to a 2-0 preseason record.

The first objective: maintain that momentum.

"We definitely want to keep this going," defensive tackle Tyson Alualu said as the Jaguars (2-0 in the preseason) prepared to play the Ravens (1-1) at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday at 7:30 p.m. "It's important to keep getting better every week. Probably this week is the most work we're going to get in preseason, so we want to show improvement and that we're getting better as a team."

The Jaguars, after finishing 5-11 last season, rallied for a 32-31 victory over the New York Giants at EverBank Field on August 10 in the preseason opener and came from behind in the fourth quarter for a 27-24 victory over the Saints in New Orleans last week.

Key to that start: a new offense installed by first-year head coach Mike Mularkey and an offensive staff led by coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert led the team to a first-possession touchdown drive against New York, then led the first-team offense to touchdowns on two of its first three drives against New Orleans. Gabbert has completed 18 of 26 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns in a little more than three quarters with no interceptions and a 126.1 passer rating.

The team ranks fourth in the NFL after two preseason games with 163 yards a game rushing, that despite the absence of holdout running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Overall, an offense that ranked 32nd in the NFL a season ago ranks 10th.

"We've been hitting a pretty good stride," Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas said. "Our offense is fresh. It's new. Guys are settling in. We're able to go out and have fun. It's always good to just execute and play. There's no pressure, really. We're doing what we practice every day and it's falling into place.

"What we're doing is expected. It's the standard set by coach Mularkey and the staff. It's becoming our nature. Guys are making plays, and doing what we go out there to do. We have to continue to grow, but hopefully by the end of the season we're one of those offenses that people are talking about."

The offense on Thursday will be without offensive tackle Eugene Monroe a second consecutive week. The starting left tackle sustained a hit to the head a week ago, and remains in the team's concussion program. He will be tested again Friday.

Monroe, linebacker Daryl Smith (groin), cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring) and offensive guard Will Rackley (high ankle sprain) will travel to Baltimore and will not play. Also expected to miss the game are guard Drew Nowak (foot), running back Keith Toston (hamstring), guard Jason Spitz (foot) and defensive end Austen end Austen Lane (foot).

Starting cornerback Rashean Mathis, who missed the first two preseason games after rehabilitating a knee injury throughout the offseason, is expected to play for the first time this preseason.

Mularkey said this week the Jaguars' starters likely will play deep into the third quarter, perhaps into the fourth. The Jaguars, like most NFL teams, use the third preseason games as a sort of dress rehearsal under Mularkey, which means not only practicing this past week on a similar schedule to the regular season, but installing a game plan for the first time this preseason.

After the third quarter, Mularkey said reserves will play, with the first roster cut-down date coming next Monday. Mularkey said for that reason the final quarter Thursday, as well as practice Saturday and Monday, are important for roster evaluation.

"Yes it is important that they show up for all of it," Mularkey said.

Alualu, like Mathis, missed the preseason opener while continuing to rehabilitate from knee surgery. After returning last week, he is expected to start a second consecutive game this week. The first game back he played only a few plays, which he called a "teaser," and he said he's looking forward for more play.

"I feel like it's coming along," he said.

The same is true for the Jaguars' offense, and the team. And after a few days of storylines away from the field, the idea Thursday will be to return to what has been a focus throughout the preseason: building and maintaining a momentum toward a regular season Jaguars players are more and more convinced can be something worth remembering.

 "We saw it when we came out in OTAs that it's a different offense," Alualu said. "They've kept improving through training camp, and all they're doing is helping us. We're trying to get them better and they're going the same for us, so it's definitely translating to how we play in the games, and it definitely helps. It's important to keep that up."

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