JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser’s notes and observations from Monday as the Jaguars begin preparing to play the New York Giants in the 2018 regular-season opener at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday…
1.Brandon Linder is healthy – and he’s honored, too. The healthy part was news Monday with the fifth-year starting center returning to practice for the first time since sustaining a knee injury in the Jaguars’ Preseason Week 2 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Head Coach Doug Marrone on Monday said Linder could have played in the preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday had it been a regular-season game, and Linder agreed: “I feel good. I’ve been working out a lot, getting this knee right. It’s more mental preparation than anything.” Linder on Monday also was named one of three Jaguars offensive captains along with quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Leonard Fournette. End Calais Campbell and linebacker Telvin Smith were named defensive captains and defensive end Lerentee McCray was named special teams captain. “It’s definitely a big honor and I’m very appreciative,” Linder said. “I’m very humbled and grateful.” Players voted for team captains, and Marrone informed the team of the results Monday.
2.Notable among the six captains was Fournette. Whereas Smith, McCray, Bortles, Campbell and Linder are all in at least their fifth NFL season, Fournette is entering his second NFL season. The captaincy at such an early age speaks to the how fast Fournette has become a core player and leader of the Jaguars’ locker room, and it speaks to the respect Fournette’s teammates have for the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. “It’s huge,” said Campbell, who said he was a defensive captain at least two seasons while with the Arizona Cardinals from 2008 through 2016. “It’s such a big responsibility and it goes to show you how the guys in this locker room feel about him. He comes to work. He’s mature, and he’s grown a lot in the last year. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and be a leader. If something’s going on and we need somebody to set us back right, he has stepped up and said all the right things and got the guys focused. He’s really earned the right.”
3.Among the Jaguars’ trickier tasks this week: preparing for Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley rushed four times in the preseason for 43 yards – with all carries coming in the preseason opener against Cleveland. That included a dynamic 39-yard run that showed why some observers consider Barkley a front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Barkley left the Cleveland game with a hamstring injury and did not play the rest of the preseason. Game-planning for regular-season openers is difficult because coaches typically show only limited parts of their schemes, and that’s particularly tough for the Jaguars this week because the Giants are in their first season under Head Coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Barkley’s limited preseason only makes the task tougher. “They made a whole cutup, highlight tape [of Barkley’s time at Penn State University],’’ Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack said. “I’m going to definitely watch it. That’s my opponent, so I’m going to study everything – any little inch I can get off of it I can get. Obviously he’s in the league now doing a different thing, but it may be a move or something I can pick up on that he might do.”
4.Marrone during his tenure as head coach often has said he isn’t bothered by players talking during or between games – so long as it doesn’t hurt performance on the field. He unsurprisingly is taking a similar approach with Jaguars All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey this week. Ramsey, whose comments made this past offseason have made headlines in stories published in recent weeks in GQ and ESPN The Magazine, is expected to speak to the media Thursday – and his matchup Sunday with Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to be a topic. Marrone was asked Monday if he would be paying attention to what Ramsey said. “I don’t have to worry about paying attention because usually it will get to me quick,” he said with a laugh. He added seriously, “My focus is to get the team prepared to go up to New York and play a challenging game. Opening day games on the road are very difficult. For me, I just focus on that. I don’t focus on the other stuff.”