Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Ravens 29, Jaguars 0

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BALTIMORE, Md. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ 2019 preseason opener Thursday against Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium …

Oehser…

1.The Jaguars’ backups couldn’t beat the Ravens’ starters. That’s the extent of the big-picture takeaway from the Jaguars’ one-sided loss Thursday in the preseason opener. That’s the takeaway because the Jaguars played just five “starters” and a handful more first-line players against a Ravens team that started second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and most of the team’s front-line skill-position players. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the Ravens controlled the game throughout the first half and led 10-0 after Jackson passed 10 yards to starting wide receiver Willie Snead late in the first quarter. Highlights for the Jaguars in the first half were few, with running back Ryquell Armstead flashing some quick feet and power running and with rookie edge defender Josh Allen – the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft – making a tackle for a loss on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage; Allen continues to look like the real deal. Not much else went right for the Jaguars early. A holding penalty on safety Andrew Wingard negated a nice 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by wide receiver Keelan Cole. But don’t draw much from this game: it was about evaluating individuals for Jaguars coaches far more than gauging where the offense and defense are two weeks into training camp.

2.The NFL is moving steadily toward two preseason games. If this wasn’t obvious to Jaguars observers, Thursday should make it clearer. The Jaguars “starters” who actually started Thursday: played just five “starters” Thursday, with tight ends Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy, left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, guard A.J. Cann and strongside linebacker Leon Jacobs. That’s hardly a list of “core” players. Some absences were injury-related, but the major reason was Head Coach Doug Marrone wants to do whatever possible to ensure players are at maximum health entering the regular season. Because NFL teams rarely play any starters in Preseason Week 4 anymore, the Jaguars’ front-line players likely will play just two preseason games. As more teams follow this trend – and it’s absolutely a trend – the case for reducing preseason will get stronger. When the move to two preseason games (inevitably) is made, the guess here is most teams will increase live hitting in joint practices such as the ones the Jaguars and Ravens held this week. It’s likely only reserves and marginal players will participate in that work – thereby creating an evaluation opportunity without risking starters in game action. Whatever the solution, it feels more and more like the move to two preseason games indeed is inevitable.

3.A few thoughts in this final “quick thought.” One thought is that while the Jaguars want rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew to be the backup – and while he’s the second-best option on the roster – he also clearly must buckle his chinstrap; he lost his helmet three times in the first half. Credit Minshew for toughness. And he showed resiliency with few starters around him against the Ravens’ front-line defense. He responded to multiple big hits with clutch completions, which could be a good sign. Another thought: players such as guard A.J. Cann and defensive tackle Taven Bryan playing Thursday shouldn’t be overlooked. Second-year veteran Will Richardson could be pushing Cann at right guard, and coaches wanted a look at Bryan on a night when most front-line players were held out. A final thought is wide receiver Keelan Cole is fighting for a roster spot. He and DJ Cjark Jr. were the only receivers among the projected top six in the lineup Thursday. He appears to be competing with veteran Terrelle Pryor, who was held out Thursday for injury reasons.

Sexton ...

1. I knew it was going to be a long night on Wednesday afternoon. That’s when Doug Marrone told the television crew that 32 front line players were going to sit the game either as a coach’s decision or because of injury. What can you say? Preseason football is ugly anyway but sit 32 players and you make it nearly unwatchable. I get it. Coaches can’t afford to lose their players and they need to evaluate the bottom of the roster. I just don’t think what we watched was professional football. There has to be a better way, a solution that both players and owners can live with. Games like this turn off televisions and that isn’t the business we’re in.

2. There’s no way that Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone thought Gardner Minshew’s arm strength was any better than that. In other words, they have to see something or have a plan that makes them think they can go into the season with him as their second quarterback. He struggled with throws that NFL quarterbacks have to be able to make. I love his toughness and the way he approaches the game, he’s exactly the kind of guy I would want in my quarterback room to share an opinion, offer an insight and keep things light. I just don’t know whether there is an answer to the question of his arm strength or if the big three have a plan which they obviously wouldn’t share. They raved about him in April and they’re smart football men. I can be patient and let it play out over the next few weeks.

3. There wasn’t a lot to get excited about, but a couple of things stood out. CJ Reavis had seven solo tackles in the first half, more than a few of those were big hits from the back-up free safety. The Jags feel good about Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison and would feel a whole lot better if Reavis can contribute like that in a back-up role. I liked the power I saw from Ryquell Armstead and Devante Mays. A year ago I thought they made a mistake without any power backs behind Leonard Fournette, this season they have a stable of them and each contributed a few nice runs. If Will Richardson played as well as Leon Searcy said he did at right tackle and is as well positioned to push AJ Cann at right guard as Doug Marrone indicated on Wednesday, then it wasn’t a complete dumpster fire this evening in Baltimore…though it felt like it at the end of the night.

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