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Quick thoughts: On to the regular season

Quick-Thoughts_LaborDay

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Ashlyn Sullivan offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they move from the preseason into the 2021 regular season …

Oehser …

1. The defense feels ready for the regular season. The Jaguars focused on defense this past offseason, addressing all levels of the unit in all fashions – trade, free agency and the draft. The objectives: add bulk up front, improve against the run and turn an inconsistent secondary into one capable of press coverage and big plays. So far so good. The run defense appears to have improved dramatically during the preseason – and at minimum, this unit appears stouter than the weak run defense that essentially defined the past two Jaguars seasons. The secondary had a few preseason hiccups, but the unit received a boost in recent weeks from second-year cornerback CJ Henderson. He performed well in all three preseason games, a major turnaround from a difficult start to 2021 Training Camp in which he missed nine of the first 10 practices because of COVID-19 and personal reasons. We won't know the extent of the defense's improvement until the regular season. The sense here is that it's at least enough for the Jaguars to be competitive in most games – something they weren't last season.

2. Josh Allen may be the Jaguars' most important story outside Trevor Lawrence. Allen is far from the Jaguars' only big story, but he could be the team's most important unknown entering the regular season outside rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. While the run defense and secondary appear improved, less certain is the state of the Jaguars' pass rush entering the regular season. The Jaguars registered 18 sacks last season, the second fewest in the NFL. An improved run defense should help this area by creating more pass-rush opportunities. So should the improvement of second-year defensive end/linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson. But the Jaguars' best edge rusher is Allen, who remains something of an unknown after missing eight games last season. The Jaguars need him to be the ascending star he appeared to be during a 2019 Pro Bowl season in which he set a franchise rookie record with 10.5 sacks. If he is that player, the Jaguars will have the elite pass rusher to go with a big-time every-down linebacker in Myles Jack and a potential shutdown corner in Henderson. That's premium defensive talent and something around which this defense can build.

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Sexton …

1. We'll learn about the offensive line soon. I expect the return of center Brandon Linder, left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard A.J. Cann for the regular-season opener in Houston will give us a sense of how committed the Jaguars are to the ground game. If you watched the preseason finale in Dallas, you saw Lawrence in the shotgun for all but a single snap – which is what you saw from him at Clemson. But it's a different game on Sundays – and running from the shotgun isn't as powerful or efficient as a quarterback making the handoff at the line of scrimmage instead of deep in the backfield. Jaguars Coach Urban Meyer knows he must have a strong running game to keep the heat off Lawrence. So while everyone points to pass protection as the most important measure of an offensive line, it says here it's how well they run block. The strength of this line is its interior; if the Jaguars can run, tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson will have an easier time with outside speed rushers. The Jaguars must win the line of scrimmage; Norwell, Linder and Cann are being counted on to get the job done.

2. We learned this week how the Jaguars feel about their roster. It's telling that the Jaguars, who are currently No. 1 in the waiver wire process, weren't that active in that area this week – bringing in only wide receiver Tyron Johnson. Many believed the personnel department would bring in four or more players to augment a team that won only a single game last season – but team officials apparently liked the roster they built this spring. The Jaguars' roster turnover entering the season is around 40 percent, which is slightly above an average year. We talked all spring about the '20 Jaguars having been a roster than the 1-15 record it produced suggested. I thought the inconsistent play from all '20 starting quarterbacks brought the rest of the roster down and kept good players from having a productive season. It will be interesting to see how much difference Lawrence brings as a rookie season. It will also be interesting to see if the Jaguars add more players via waivers; they own the No. 1 spot in the order for the first three weeks of the regular season. Stay tuned.

Sullivan …

1. The signing of tight end Jacob Hollister will be big for the Jaguars. It's no secret, the Jags were looking for more weapons for Lawrence after Meyer kept only five receivers and three running backs on initial 53-player roster. Hollister was surprisingly released from the Buffalo Bills this week – and he reportedly will sign with the Jaguars. If so, he could be a steal for Jacksonville. He had 66 receptions for 558 yards and six touchdowns the past two seasons. Expect Hollister to contribute immediately.

2. It's time to see. I am so curious if next week changes at all: How Meyer runs practice, the schedule, and the overall mood of the building now that it is for real. I can't imagine a practice being more intense than the ones we already have seen during 2021 Training Camp, but it will be interesting to see how Meyer will change his approach – if at all – in the regular season, Week 1. It feels as if the Jaguars have been in "preparation mode" for six months – because they have been. We get caught up in the Xs and Os of the football team, but the biggest story in Week 1 will be Meyer preparing for his first game in the NFL – where everything counts.

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