Ideally, the Jaguars' preseason would have ended differently.
Jack Del Rio, in his ninth season as the Jaguars' head coach, said if the result had been ideal Friday, the night would have ended with a victory and not a 24-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams in the preseason finale at EverBank Field.
"Any time they keep score, you'd like to be on top in these games," Del Rio said after a pair of passes into the end zone by rookie Blaine Gabbert in the final 10 seconds fell incomplete, ensuring the Jaguars' first loss in their last six preseason finales.
"But they don't carry forward. We're 0-0 entering the regular season and looking forward to getting going."
Del Rio and starting quarterback David Garrard also each expressed concern about the pass protection, but Del Rio said afterward all wasn't bad. That's because the Jaguars:
*Got out of the preseason finale healthy.
*Got running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Aaron Kampman a few snaps.
*Got some pressure on the quarterback.
"We did pretty good for the amount of snaps we had," Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said of a pass rush that generated its first two sacks of the preseason. "We got them off the spot, and we held the run down, too."
Garrard, who started against the Rams as he did the previous two games, played the first quarter, completing 1 of 5 passes for 11 yards. He was sacked once and left the game with a passer rating of 39.6.
Veteran Luke McCown entered next, completing 4 of 9 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, while rookie Blaine Gabbert – who started the first preseason game and got time with the starting offense in the second – played the entire second half with the second- and third-team offense.
Del Rio said Garrard remains the starter, and said the Jaguars currently have two backup quarterbacks, McCown and Gabbert.
"We got all our quarterbacks good exposure in the preseason," Del Rio said, adding of who will be No. 2 and who will be No. 3, "You have to wait until 90 minutes before the (regular-season opener) game to find that out. We have two. You'll know 90 minutes before."
McCown had a passer rating of 97.9, and his 17-yard second-quarter touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Cecil Shorts tied the game, 7-7, with 3:46 remaining in the first half. The Rams had taken an early lead on a 44-yard touchdown pass from second-year veteran Sam Bradford to tight end Lance Kendricks.
"The last preseason game isn't any indication on how we will start the season, but that's a question for the coaches and not for me," McCown said. "I just do what they ask me to do."
Gabbert completed 9 of 18 passes for 132 yards and no touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 74.3.
The Jaguars' pass protection, an issue at various times in the preseason, struggled again early Thursday, and Garrard and Del Rio each said afterward it's an area that needs to improve before the September 11 regular-season opener against Tennessee.
Asked if he was frustrated, Garrard said, "just a little bit."
"There are some things that we need to work on and make sure we have straightened out before opening week," he said. "The guys were responsive. They picked it up, but we want a fast start. That's what we are and what we're preaching. We just need to continue to get better at that."
Garrard said he told his teammates on the sideline, "If you can give me time, we can make the plays necessary."
"They understand that," he said. "They know it. As a quarterback, you have to continue to challenge them. I felt like that's what I was trying to do at that point."
Said guard Uche Nwaneri, "We just have to find the positives. A lot of quarterbacks get hit on three-step drops. We have to give him the ability to step up and we can't let people come up the middle. They had too much of that early on and we settled down a bit later, but that's something we will continue to work on."
An emphasis for the Jaguars early was getting two key starters, Jones-Drew and Kampman, playing time. Each started after missing the first three preseason games while returning from knee injuries that kept them out at the end of last season.
Jones-Drew rushed five times for 14 yards, with reserve running back Deji Karim leading the team with 58 yards on eight carries.
"It felt great to kind of get twisted up a little bit, get tackled," said Jones-Drew, a Pro Bowl running back the past two seasons. "I had a chance to make a big run. I missed it, but the guys did a great job of blocking up front. It was a good day in the run game, so it was fun."
Kampman, a veteran end considered a key element of the pass rush, played about 10 plays, and throughout the game the Jaguars put consistent pressure on Rams quarterbacks. They finished with two sacks, their first two of the preseason, with each coming from reserve Nate Collins.
"I had 10 plays, so you don't get to work on every aspect of your game," Kampman said. "It was good to get back out there. There were definitely some good things. Probably the biggest thing was to be able to get back out there with the guys, get your feet wet before we're really cranking it up."
The Rams took a 14-7 third-quarter lead on a 1-yard run by Keith Toston, and after a 48-yard field goal by Josh Scobee, St. Louis pushed the lead to 21-10 on a 1-yard run by Chase Reynolds. DuJuan Harris' 1-yard run pulled the Jaguars to within four and a 35-yard field goal by Rams kicker Josh Brown gave St. Louis a seven-point lead with 1:36 remaining.
Most of the game after the first quarter was as much about evaluating the roster as winning and losing. The Jaguars must trim the roster to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday, a process that began immediately after Thursday's game.
"You have separation as you get down to the end of the process," Del Rio said. "We feel like we've had that occur. It's never easy to have to let young men go who have dreams, who have worked so hard, who have been committed, who have done everything you've asked them to do. That part's hard – always is, always will be.
"But I feel like things are becoming clear for us. We'll be able to make these decisions and move on as a football team."
*Del Rio said the team's wide receivers "are a group that has depth, and doesn't necessarily have a star. . . . We think we're starting out with a group that's ready to do some things. We don't have that name, that Larry Fitzgerald name, that premiere No. 1 guy, but we do have some good football players."
*Jones-Drew on former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, who will announce his retirement Friday: "Fred's done so much for me and a bunch of other guys in here on and off the field. For him to come back, that's huge."
*Gabbert said of his preseason: "Overall, I have to look at it as a success, coming in the time I did, having no off-season, having no rookie mini-camps and being able to learn the playbook and getting a bunch of meaningful snaps in all of our preseason games . . . it's got to be a success."