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Quick thoughts: Ready for Week 1


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Ashlyn Sullivan offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday in the 2021 regular-season opener …

Oehser …

1.This opener is big – and tricky. Every regular-season opener is big; hope regenerates every season – as does every NFL roster. But the '21 regular-season opener seems particularly big for the Jaguars for reasons beyond the NFL head coaching debut of Urban Meyer and the NFL quarterbacking debut of rookie Trevor Lawrence. Those are big long-term storylines, but for the short-term the opener is big for the perception of this team. The perception is the Jaguars are improved team – and that the Texans, partly because of the absence of Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, will struggle entering the season. That has caused the Jaguars to be favored by many observers, but remember: Week 1 is the weirdest, hardest-to-predict week of the NFL season – and these revamped, young Jaguars haven't proven enough to be heavy favorites in any game. Also: NFL debuts are difficult for rookie quarterbacks, even ones such as Lawrence who have been selected No. 1 overall. The Jaguars need to win early, particularly considering the schedule appears to be significantly tougher after the first four games. And this is a game on paper in which they should be competitive. But with or without Watson, don't expect this to be one-sided. This very big game figures to be tricky for a young team still trying to find its identity.

2.We'll learn fast about the defensive line. The Jaguars focused this past offseason on improving their run defense, trading for nose tackle Malcom Brown and acquiring Jihad Ward and Roy Robertson-Harris as unrestricted free agents. They also selected nose tackle Jay Tufele in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The idea was to improve a run defense that had been a liability the last two seasons. That area, which looked dramatically improved in the preseason, figures to get an early test in Week 1 – with the Texans reportedly committed to building their building process and their immediate offensive approach around a strong running game. Houston finished fourth in the NFL in rushing in the preseason. This figures at least in part to be a game decides by who runs better, with Meyer also committed to establishing the run. The Jaguars spent their offseason reshaping the roster to be better in this type of game. They'll get an idea quickly if they were successful.


1.All eyes on the quarterback. No need for explanation. Lawrence is the Jaguars' most compelling story since late in the 2017 season. I'll pay close attention to Lawrence on Sunday but running backs Carlos Hyde and James Robinson will be more critical to the outcome of Lawrence's first NFL start. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who played for Meyer at Ohio State, told his former college coach last spring that the best thing he could do for Lawrence was to give him a strong running game. A strong running game keeps a defense guessing, keeps the playbook open and will allow offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell plenty of opportunities to use play action and take shots deep down the field. The Jaguars must be able to run for everything else to fall into place, which is why I'd much rather see Robinson or Hyde rush for 100 or more yards Sunday than Lawrence throw for 300 yards or more.

2.Who can win? As I currently see it, the only Jaguars player on the defensive front who can consistently beat the man across from him is defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen. That's no slight to Robertson-Harris or Brown or Ward, but I haven't seen them in live action yet. Allen had a phenomenal training camp going until he was sent to Reserve/COVID-19 after a close contact. He's a beast and I don't think there is any question that if he stays healthy, he will be a force in 2021. But who else, especially among the outside linebackers, can create their own rush by winning on any single snap? The good news is there are solid candidates in K'Lavon Chaisson, Dawuane Smoot and rookie Jordan Smith, but for the defense coordinated by Joe Cullen defense to be as unpredictable and multiple as possible, one of those guys must emerge. Who can win? We'll see on Sunday in Houston.

Sullivan …

1.Getting deep. The Jaguars are still working on finding their last "go-to" deep threat at wide receiver. Keep your eye on free-agent acquisition Phillip Dorsett II to grab that spot. Dorsett is currently on the practice squad due to a hamstring injury, but Meyer has made it clear that is the only reason he isn't on the 53-man roster. When he is activated, Dorsett has legitimate downfield speed that we witnessed in training camp. He can flip the field and Meyer has been less than subtle on the need for a guy like that on the roster.

2.Running back could be plug and play for the remainder of the season. Of course, Robinson will be the starting running back with Hyde and Dare Ogunbowale there to lighten the load. The Jaguars added Duke Johnson to the practice squad this week as they continue to work to replace what they wanted from first-round selection Travis Etienne Jr., now out for the season. It is a work in progress – and it might be for the whole season, working to incorporate guys on the roster that can bring fresh legs to this team. You can't replace Etienne's explosive speed, but the closest thing you can get is bringing in multiple guys who can run the ball to take some pressure off Robinson.

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