Byron Leftwich's return to Jacksonville will provide an element of drama for Jaguars fans in attendance on Saturday night. The question is: How many fans will witness that drama?
Saturday's game between the Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Bucs will be blacked out to local television in Jacksonville. It's a game that could produce the lowest attendance figure for any game, regular season or preseason, in Jaguars history. The all-time attendance low is 43,363 for a regular-season game against the Houston Texans on Dec. 7, 2003. The preseason low is 44,314 for a game against the Washington Redskins on Aug. 28, 2003.
"The fans that can make it, we appreciate you," coach Jack Del Rio said about the prospect of blackouts this season. "When they're here, they're loud and we appreciate them very much."
Leftwich, the former first-round pick of the Jaguars in 2003, is expected to be the Bucs' starting quarterback on Saturday. He last played in a game in Jacksonville on Oct. 8, 2006, in a 41-0 win over the New York Jets. He was cut by the Jaguars prior to the start of the 2007 season and resurrected his career last season in earning a Super Bowl ring as Ben Roethlisberger's backup in Pittsburgh.
"Byron's coming to town. That's in the past for us," Del Rio said of the firestorm that resulted from Leftwich's release. "I wish him the best, starting next week."
"I think it's great," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said of Leftwich's return to Jacksonville. "It's going to make for talk in the media. It'll be fun."
The Jaguars' concern, however, will not be for the Leftwich drama because the Jaguars have a drama of their own: They're looking for their first touchdown of the preseason.
Garrard hopes he gets the pass-protection he needs to complete some passes and move the ball down the field for a score. His offensive line did not afford him that opportunity in the Jaguars' 12-9 loss in Miami this past Monday.
"It's really about execution," coach Jack Del Rio said when asked what he wants to see his team improve in its second preseason game. "The desire is there, the effort, the energy is there, we've just got to focus in those situations and be cleaner and be sharper, so we'll look to be a week better."
All eyes – those in attendance, of course – will be on Garrard and the offense, which has been spotty through most of training camp. Can Garrard's offensive line afford him the protection he needs? Who will emerge as Garrard's go-to receiver? Those are the top questions heading into the game against Tampa Bay.
"We should have cleaner, crisper execution on Saturday night, and that doesn't just mean from the quarterback, it means for the whole team," said Del Rio, who expected to play his starters through the first half, with Garrard possibly playing into the third quarter.
The Jaguars defense turned in a solid effort against the Dolphins. It was led by a rejuvenated front four that, at times, was a front three. Which will it be? Will the Jaguars primarily be a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense this season?
"I would say what we're going to do with that is deploy our guys the way we think plays to their strengths, for the most part, not everybody. How we deploy our guys is not something I'm going to spend a lot of time discussing, but certainly we're going to do anything and everything we can to put our guys in position to do the types of things we expect to do on defense," Del Rio said.
In Miami, the Jaguars used defensive end Derrick Harvey in a variety of ways. He played with his hand on the ground, dropped into coverage out of a standing position, and once even lined up on the slot receiver. He would seem to be the featured player in the Jaguars' defensive schemes and bears watching through the preseason.
How many will be watching? That's the storyline this week.