JACKSONVILLE – The focus remains on the front.
That's because the search for a starting center continues as a major preseason priority for the Jaguars, even as the 2014 regular season draws near.
Eyeballs are all over the position behind center, too, with questions, observations and even an occasional touch of outrage peppering the discussion whenever quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blake Bortles are discussed.
How long will Henne and the Jaguars' starters play? Will Bortles stay hot?
Who will start at center? Will it be Jacques McClendon, or Luke Bowanko, or Mike Brewster?
Will the run game improve?
And just which Jaguars veterans will start?
Those are questions for Wednesday, as the Jaguars' preseason finale draws nearer. For today – for this Tuesday morning – as the Jaguars prepare to play the Atlanta Falcons in the preseason finale at EverBank Field Thursday at 6 p.m., let's take a look at three Players to Watch who aren't quarterbacks or centers:
1. Ace Sanders/Tandon Doss.We mention them together because they're in similar situations. Neither has played in the preseason, and both could see limited action Thursday. Sanders, a second-year veteran, missed the first three preseason games dealing with personal issues, but he looked prepared and quick in practice this week and is expected to play Thursday. Because he will miss the first four regular-season games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, this will be Sanders' lone game experience this season until Week 5. Doss has missed the first three preseason games with an ankle injury, and the team wants to look at him on offense and on punt returns. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley this week lauded Doss' tough-mindedness, and before sustaining the ankle injury early in camp, he was starting to show why the Jaguars liked him in free agency. With these two players in the lineup Thursday, the receiving corps will look more like what the Jaguars envisioned than any point in the preseason.
2. Allen Hurns.Yes, we already have discussed receiver – and yes, we mentioned Hurns as a Player to Watch last week. But the free-agent rookie wide receiver has outperformed any reasonable expectations during the preseason, catching 13 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. His seven receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown were notable against Detroit not just because they led the team in all categories, but because the yards came against the Lions' first-team and front-line players. Hurns, who played two seasons for Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch at the University of Miami, has stood out for his consistency and his knowledge of the offense, and he has done more than solidify a roster spot. He's pushing to be on the field and extensively involved in the receiving rotation from the start of the season.
3. Toby Gerhart.The entire running back position could be an area to watch Thursday, with Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson competing to determine roles behind Gerhart. Robinson has looked stronger by the week during the preseason and has produced more than the other reserves at the spot, rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He also has been utilized on kickoff returns. As for Gerhart, he looked stronger and more confident against the Lions than the week before against the Bears, rushing for 32 yards on 10 carries. Gerhart showed leg drive and ability to get extra yards after contact against Detroit, two of the attributes the team liked when they signed him during free agency. The Jaguars' run game isn't where they want it to be, but it showed signs of push against Detroit, particularly inside. That will be a process, and Gerhart's power behind that push will be a key storyline early in the season.