JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser’s notes and observations on Day 20 of 2018 Training Camp as the Jaguars prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons in Preseason Week 3 at TIAA Bank Field Saturday
1.Yannick Ngakoue looks like he’s having his best NFL training camp, and he said that may be the case. “Maybe so, because I’m comfortable with the scheme,” he said. Not that he was uncomfortable before. Ngakoue in three seasons has emerged as one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushers, registering eight sacks as a rookie in 2016 and 12 during a Pro Bowl season last season. Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell often has said Ngakoue can be the NFL’s best pass rusher. With many projecting another jump in his third season, Ngakoue on Thursday was asked the biggest difference in his play entering this season. “Awareness – I see plays faster,” Ngakoue said. “I can read the [offensive] tackle now and know what he’s doing earlier. I know when he’s trying to down block.” And while that might mean only a half-second’s difference, that can be all the difference in the world. “It takes only a half-second to get a sack – a split second,” he said.
2.Saturday appears likely to be the Jaguars debut of guard Andrew Norwell. Leonard Fournette is looking forward to that, but the second-year running back isn’t expecting Norwell to be vocal about it. “Norwell’s Norwell, man,” Fournette said of Norwell, who has missed the first two preseason games with a calf injury. “He (doesn’t) show excitement, but you know he’s ready to play. That’s just who he is. I can’t wait to be back out there running behind him.’’ The Jaguars signed the first-team Associated Press All-Pro selection as an unrestricted free agent from the Carolina Panthers in March. Fournette, who joked early in training camp that he had tried unsuccessfully to get Norwell to talk, was asked Thursday how many words he was getting out of Norwell these days. Fournette shrugged and said, “Break … Every time we break the huddle he says, ‘Break.’ But that’s just him. I think he’s more of an action guy. He’s not really talkative. He works every day.”
3.Norwell’s not the only offensive lineman expected to make his preseason debut Saturday. Right tackle Jermey Parnell, out the first two preseason games with a knee injury, also is expected to play. With center Brandon Linder’s status uncertain because of a knee injury sustained against Minnesota Saturday, the Jaguars appear likely to have at least four starting offensive linemen – left tackle Cam Robinson, Norwell, right guard A.J. Cann and Parnell – starting together for the first time in the preseason. “I think it’s important that those guys can go in there,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said. “I know people think it’s more of the continuity of playing together – and I think that’s such a broad range when people talk about continuity. I’m not as concerned about the performance end of playing with someone else or playing with someone different. The continuity is how they’re going to push themselves, what they’re going to talk about on the sideline, what they’re going to do at halftime, if something happens how are they going to correct it as a group? Those are the things I look to more than continuity of the five guys always being there, always playing together because I think that’s an unrealistic fact in this league because of injury.”
4.Strong safety Barry Church likes where the Jaguars’ secondary stands entering Preseason Week 3, with a primary reason being the group has had a chance to work together much of the preseason and training camp. That’s a contrast to last season, when the Jaguars’ starting defensive backs – Church, free safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye – didn’t start as a unit until the regular-season opener. “You should see it in fewer explosive plays,” Church said. “That’s the only place I feel like we struggled last year, was big plays and explosive plays. Offenses are not going to drive 80 yards on us. It’s the big play. This year, with our better understanding of our defense and how teams are going to try to attack us, it gives us a better understanding of how to limit the big plays. I feel you’ll see less of those – if any at all.” The group enters ’18 with 19 games playing together as a unit – including last season’s postseason – whereas Bouye and Church were new to the team entering 2017 with Ramsey and Gipson having played together in 2016. “It’s night and day,” Church said. “We didn’t know each other, and we didn’t know the defense like the back of our hands. This year it’s completely different. We’ve been healthy for the most part this whole offseason and got to know each other on and off the field.”