The watchword Friday is progress.
And when guard Uche Nwaneri and the rest of the Jaguars talk about preseason progress, what they mean isn't necessarily winning, though they certainly would prefer avoiding a second consecutive lopsided loss.
No, Nwaneri said, preseason progress is just that:
Better communication. Better consistency. Better tempo on offense, a few longer drives and fewer dropped passes.
Better pass rush on defense, and a few more turnover opportunities.
All of that would mean the Jaguars getting what they want Friday in the second game of the 2011 preseason – namely, a feeling that confirms what they have said all week, that the preseason opener was better than it looked and that progress toward the regular season continues to be made.
"We're basically expecting to see things come together," Nwaneri said as the Jaguars (0-1 in the preseason) prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) in a preseason game at EverBank Field Friday at 8 p.m.
"We're expecting to see things move smoothly, people to be in the right places and assignments to be taken care of."
The Jaguars ended 2011 Training Camp Thursday with a morning walkthrough, and enter the Atlanta game with at least six players not expected to play: linebacker Clint Session, running back Rashad Jennings, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive end Aaron Kampman, right tackle Eben Britton and tight end Zach Miller.
Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis, who missed the preseason opener after signing a contract extension a week before, is expected to start, as is quarterback David Garrard, who missed the preseason opener with a back injury.
Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars' rookie quarterback and the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, has taken snaps with the first-team offense this week and started last week in Garrard's absence. He likely will play extensively Friday, most likely with the second team.
And while Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said he wants to see a better result than the 47-12 loss to New England in the preseason opener, the focus remains on evaluating a roster and having the best possible team entering the regular season.
"As a football team we want to continue to improve, and namely improve on playing fast – offensively, defensively and special teams," Del Rio said. "The idea of understanding where you belong, getting there with urgency but under control so that you can make the plays that present themselves, I think that's the bottom line, and executing at a higher level that we're looking for."
Del Rio said he expects the starters to play more against Atlanta than they did against New England, when most played about a quarter.
"We're just trying to bring up to speed some of the backend guys that are fighting for roster spots and make sure that we're putting them in position to do some things that they can do so we can get a good evaluation, and that part of it will continue," Del Rio said. "Obviously it's important that in the end we select the right 53 guys for this roster."
The Jaguars, after an 8-8 second-place finish in the AFC South a year ago, led the Patriots 6-0 early last week and trailed 19-9 at halftime before most of the front-line players left the game. The loss drew concern from fans and outsiders, and while those concerns weren't shared within the organization, there was still an emphasis on improvement throughout the week leading to the Falcons' game.
Nwaneri said the offensive line wants to see better communication, and an elimination of errors in the area. He said a priority also was better blitz pickup. The offense as a whole this week looked far more efficient in practice, with the passing game and the receivers particularly impressive in Monday night's practice.
"In the preseason, we're looking at technique and making sure we're polished," Nwaneri said. "You're wanting to find that groove. This year's different from any other year, because you didn't have the OTAs and for us, it's going to take a little longer to get that rhythm. It's looked better in the last week – loads better. We're just looking to take that next step."
The defense against the Patriots showed early in the game the aggressiveness and increased speed coaches have preached throughout training camp. Clint Session had two forced fumbles while playing 10 plays, and the pass rush had nine hits on Patriots quarterbacks.
That was a start, and the coaches want that sort of performance more consistently Friday.
"Preseason is obviously preseason, but for us as a team you want to see a progression from the first game," Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas said. "We only went a couple of series, but as a team, you want to see progress and you want to see guys sustain their energy for more than a quarter. You want to see production as opposed to wins and losses.
"Sometimes, you feel a little embarrassed. Guys didn't play as long as they usually do in normal games, but it's not a ones reflection or a twos reflections; it's a team reflection. As a team, we feel like, 'OK, we need to get out there and work. That's been the business for us lately."