FOXBORO, Mass. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 2017 preseason opener against the New England Patriots Thursday …
- The first half was significant. Yes, this was just the preseason opener – and the Patriots were without quarterback Tom Brady. Still, the Jaguars led 17-10 at halftime of the 2017 preseason opener – and while that will count for nothing in the regular season, it could matter psychologically for the Jaguars. The Jaguars, who struggled at times in two dual practices versus the defending champions this week, got some early big plays from the special teams. As importantly, the Jaguars were able to run effectively at times – particularly when rookie Leonard Fournette was playing running back. They didn't dominate, and they got some help from a long interference call that set up Fournette's 1-yard run late in the first half. But the Jaguars had some significant early moments. A sack by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. A 41-yard punt return by Rashad Greene Jr. A bruising eight-yard gain on 4th-and-1 by Fournette. A 97-yard reception by rookie Keelan Cole. Fournette's first NFL touchdown. Would it all translate to the regular season? Probably not. But after what at times was a difficult week, it could translate into confidence for a young team.
- The message came early: the 2017 Jaguars are going to run – and Head Coach Doug Marrone made it clear on the preseason's second drive. From 1st-and-10 at the Patriots 37, Fournette ran for nine yards on his first three NFL carries. Facing 4th-and-1 from the Patriots 28 – well within kicker Carson Tinker' range – Marrone opted to go for the first down. Quarterback Blake Bortles handed to Fournette and the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft muscled out an eight-yard gain. The drive stalled and Myers converted a field goal, but the message had been sent: this team will run – and Fournette is going to do a lot of the tough, hard running. It was a tone-setting start to the preseason.
- Cole could make the Jaguars' receiver decisions interesting. The rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan has flashed throughout training camp, getting open deep consistently, and – more importantly – showing good hands and an ability to make plays on the ball. That performance earned him time with the second team in the preseason opener, and the undrafted free agent took advantage with the biggest play of the game. On 1st-and-10 from the Jaguars 3, Cole for behind Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones and caught a perfect pass from backup quarterback Blake Bortles in stride, scoring untouched on a 97-yard touchdown. The Jaguars' receiving corps is deep and Marqise Lee, Blake Bortles, Blake Bortles, Dede Westbrook and Blake Bortles figure to have roster sports if healthy. Could Cole make a play for a potential sixth spot? It may be hard to keep him off the roster.
- I thought the Jaguars offensive line performed well. Look past the 207 yards rushing and you saw a unit that was able to get a strong push off the ball, create seams if not holes for the back and protected the passer. It's a unit that is under the microscope and was playing with a rookie left tackle and back-up right tackle but did what they were supposed to do. That's a nice beginning.
- I liked the production from the 2017 draft class. Leonard Fournette, Cam Robinson, DJ Smoot, Dede Westbrook, heck even Brandon Brown made a few plays. Great teams are built through the draft so I like to see something from the rookies even if it's Keelan Cole who went undrafted. Young talent is the lifeblood of a franchise and on a night when Jalen Ramsey was on the sidelines it was nice to see the young guys show up.
- Doug Marrone told Mark Brunell and I in the TV production meeting that this team had to tackle better. He will be able to say the same thing when we meet again in two weeks before the Panthers game. They have to fix that... so far they haven't.