It's the game within the game and it'll take center stage Thursday night for a lot of young players attempting to make the roster of a Jaguars team in a youth movement.
"We believe we'll get a look at several of those players this week and that'll help a little bit, but it certainly is difficult when you're putting it all together. It's something that Gene Smith and I will have to work very carefully through and make good decisions," coach Jack Del Rio said of the final cuts the Jaguars face this weekend.
Here's this reporter's look at the potential number of players the Jaguars will keep at each position and where the battles appear to be.
Quarterback—The Jaguars kept two on the active roster last year and are likely to do that again this year, unless they were to sign a player off waivers. In that case, they might keep three quarterbacks. David Garrard and Todd Bouman are the two "active," with Todd Boeckman auditioning for a spot on the practice squad.
Running back—Five is a standard number. Maurice Jones-Drew, Greg Jones and Montell Owens are the locks. Rookie Rashad Jennings has missed time and hasn't shown much in the preseason, but he's a likely keep on the strength of what he's shown in practice and on his upside. Chauncey Washington, Alvin Pearman, Brock Bolen and Josh Vaughan would seem to be vying for the final spot.
Tight end—The Jaguars kept three last year. Marcedes Lewis is the starter. Rookie Zach Miller is expected to return to action and he fits prominently into the Jaguars' pass offense. Greg Estandia, Rich Angulo and Ernest Wilford are thought to be the bubble guys. The Jaguars could keep four tight ends while Miller is recovering.
Wide receiver—Six stayed last year, but that included Jerry Porter, who was in an extended recovery from hamstring surgery. Five is a more reasonable number and three spots would seem to be eaten up by Torry Holt, Troy Williamson and Nate Hughes. Mike Sims-Walker is the likely fourth guy and rookie Jarett Dillard is thought to have the edge for the fifth spot. Where does that leave rookies Mike Thomas and Tiquan Underwood? Thomas has missed all of the preseason to date with a hamstring injury. Underwood is a tall, speedy receiver who has upside. He could be a practice squad candidate.
Offensive line—This is where it gets tough. Let's start with the easy part: Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Brad Meester, Vince Manuwai, Uche Nwaneri, Tra Thomas and Mo Williams. The tough part is what the Jaguars decide on Tony Pashos, and whether Britton is ready to take over at right tackle. If he is, and Thursday night's game might answer that question, then we should not forget that this is a team in a youth movement. Jordan Black and Cameron Stephenson are linemen the Jaguars like.
Defensive line—So, will the Jags be more of a 4-3 or a 3-4 team in 2009? The answer to that question will likely determine the number of defensive linemen they keep. Last year they kept 10. Derrick Harvey, John Henderson, rookie Terrance Knighton and Reggie Hayward appear to be the starters. Quentin Groves, Derek Landri and Atiyyah Ellison appear to be solid. Undrafted rookie Julius Williams may have shown enough flash to win a roster spot. Veteran Rob Meier has been dogged by injury. Montavious Stanley and James Wyche would seem to be bubble guys.
Linebacker—As a 4-3 team a year ago, the Jags kept six linebackers. Justin Durant, Clint Ingram, Daryl Smith, undrafted rookie Russell Allen and Brian Iwuh are the locks. Thomas Williams or Tim Shaw?
Defensive backs—Rashean Mathis, Sean Considine, Brian Williams and Reggie Nelson are the starters. Derek Cox was supposed to make Williams a possible roster decision, but Cox has yet to play a preseason game. Gerald Alexander, Brian Witherspoon, Tyron Brackenridge, Marlon McCree and Scott Starks are likely keepers. Rookie cornerback Pete Ittersagen is a threat and could close the ground with a top game on Thursday. Ittersagen and fellow undrafted rookie Michael Desormeaux would certainly be practice-squad candidates.
Specialists—Adam Podlesh is thought to hold an edge over Steve Weatherford in the punting battle. The long-snapping competition between popular veteran Joe Zelenka and Jeremy Cain continues. Josh Scobee is the kicker.