JACKSONVILLE -- Senior writer John Oehser checks in with a last look before the Jaguars play host to the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
Panthers (0-0), Jaguars (0-0).
This is the regular-season opener for both teams, and a chance for the Jaguars to get their first real measure of just how much improvement they made in the offseason.
The Jaguars enter the game with a slew of new faces, from end Jared Odrick to linebacker Dan Skuta to cornerback Davon House to safety Sergio Brown on defense to running back T.J. Yeldon to center Stefen Wisniewski to right tackle Jermey Parnell on offense.
The Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, as well as a new offensive line coach – associate head coach-offense/offensive line coach Doug Marrone – so if the Jaguars have a different look on Sunday, there are plenty of reasons.
But as important to the Jaguars entering the season is the improvement of returning young players, particularly second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. He looked improved throughout the preseason behind an offensive line that also looked improved after allowing 71 sacks last season. Sunday is a chance to get a regular-season glimpse at that improvement.
The injury front
The Jaguars are without defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (knee), tight end Julius Thomas (hand) and defensive end Andre Branch (knee). All are expected to miss multiple games to start the season.
Tyson Alualu will start at the three-technique in place of Marks, with Odrick, Michael Bennett and Abry Jones also in the rotation. Veteran Chris Clemons will start at the Leo position with Branch out, and Leos Chris Smith and Ryan Davis also will get repetitions in the team's lightning package.
With Thomas out, Clay Harbor will be the team's move tight end, but veteran Marcedes Lewis and Nic Jacobs also will play extensively with Olson's offense often utilizing multiple tight ends.
Also for the Jaguars, wide receiver Marqise Lee (hamstring) is listed as doubtful. He ran during the week but hasn't practiced since early in training camp.
Running back Toby Gerhart is questionable with an abdominal strain. He worked early in the week, but did not practice in the Jaguars' final extensive practice of the week on Thursday.
Wide receiver Bryan Walters (hamstring), defensive tackle Michael Bennett (ankle), safety Johnathan Cyprien (finger) and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds (knee) are probable and expected to be available Sunday. Cyprien will play with a protective device on the injured area.
The Jaguars must figure a way to pressure quarterback Cam Newton when on defense, something they could do with creative schemes and blitzes. Newton figures to be the key for the Panthers' offense with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Offensively for the Jaguars, the line will be key. The unit appeared improved in the preseason, rarely allowing pressure on Bortles and run-blocking well early. If that unit plays well, the run offense can be effective, which should take pressure off Bortles.
Mostly, of course, the focus will be on Bortles. He was impressive in the preseason, but the regular season is a different set of circumstances. Can he continue his improvement?
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