JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Ashlyn Sullivan offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the 2021 preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field Saturday
- 1.The rookie's debut … was a rookie debut – and that's not bad. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence made his NFL debut Saturday – and as might be expected from a two-series, 14-play appearance, the overall "grade" was pretty much "incomplete." Lawrence's two series were in keeping with most of his practices during 2021 Training Camp in that he flashed the ability that made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft – with a particular bright spot Saturday being a 35-yard pass with perfect touch and velocity to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. on the final play of the first quarter. He completed six of nine passes for 71 yards without a touchdown or interception; he also was sacked twice – once on each possession – and the sacks seemed a combination of protection and Lawrence holding the ball too long at times. Center Brandon Linder summed up where Lawrence stands at this point in his early development. "I thought he did well," Linder said. "Room to grow. First preseason game. Excited about what's to come." Linder also emphasized that Lawrence "gets it." This overall looked like the first NFL appearance for a talented rookie with a bright future and much to learn – which, of course, it was.
- 2.One really good sign. Encouraging early for the Jaguars Saturday: the play of second-year cornerback CJ Henderson, who missed the early part of '21 camp with COVID-19. The No. 9 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Henderson is a key storyline this preseason and training camp; if he fulfills his potential as a Top 10-selected corner, a Jaguars cornerback group that also includes veteran free-agent signee Shaq Griffin and rookie Tyson Campbell – the No. 33 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft – could be a team strength. His two pass breakups – one on a long pass in the first quarter to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and one a near interception on a pass over the middle in the second quarters – were good signs from a player the Jaguars need to be good. "He's an important part of this team," defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen said. "He has to get back in the swing of things."
- 1.We all saw the quarterback and we all know the score. Lawrence is a star or will be. The rookie quarterback bounced back from a pair of sacks with a pair of third-down conversions to extend both of his drives. He was unflappable in the pocket on third and ten – where most young quarterbacks are looking to get out of there – and delivered a beautiful 35-yard strike to Jones Jr. He's the man. CJ Beathard is No. 2 if the scorecard kept by Head Coach Urban Meyer is the deciding factor. He completed 13 of 16 passes Saturday, including a fourth-down strike in the red zone for the Jaguars' first touchdown. It was easy to see why the Jaguars gave him the guaranteed money, his arm strength was noticeably better, and he was far more productive. Meyer told us in our broadcast meeting on Friday afternoon that he really liked Gardner Minshew II. He called him a street fighter. But the scorecard says Beathard is the backup.
- 2.The run defense is going to be much stronger this season. The Browns want to run the ball no matter who is in the backfield. Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt would have had a better day Saturday, but it's pretty clear the investments made by the Jaguars on the defensive line last spring will have a large and immediate impact. The big guys up front pushed the pile backwards Saturday and let the linebackers run to the ball. Again, they weren't facing what was the third best running game in the field last season – and one of the best pounders in the NFL in Chubb. But you can see how Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen plans to deploy his 3-4 scheme. "I never thought we lost the line of scrimmage," Meyer said afterward. That's a good place to begin for a defense that never seemed to win it a season ago.
- 1.Lawrence handled debut well. The only takeaway fans will be asking about for this first preseason game will involve Lawrence. The answer: the moment was not too big for the rookie quarterback. No one thought it would be Lawrence is used to playing on the biggest stage of college football. However, it was reassuring to hear Lawrence say in his postgame press conference that he felt poised and confident – just like he looked. Yes, there were some throws he wishes he would have made. He also mentioned he was holding onto the ball too long in the pocket on some plays. But Jaguars fans should be optimistic from what they saw from their future starting quarterback.
- 2.Welcome back, Henderson. Henderson made some plays tonight that reminded me of Week 1 last season in a Jaguars victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Henderson played well enough that day – with a game-turning interception – that we all felt he had the potential to fill the hole left by Jalen Ramsey at the position. For a guy who missed a large majority of training camp dealing with injuries and COVID-19, Henderson looked like he belonged tonight. Allen said it best afterward: "For CJ to make plays like that tonight, it shows we have a heck of a lot of talent at corner."