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Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Saints 24, Jaguars 20

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles scrambles as he looks for a receiver during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ 2018 preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field Thursday …

Oehser…

1.The Jaguars’ first-team offense couldn’t have looked better in the ‘18 preseason opener. That was important enough that it overrode most of what happened afterward. Quarterback Blake Bortles had looked good enough in training camp that he didn’t need to play well in the preseason opener to prove himself, but he showed Thursday why the Jaguars feel good about him entering the season. He led a 79-yard drive that consumed the first 7:02 of the game, a drive that ended with his two-yard rollout touchdown run. The drive was an impressive mix of run and pass, with Bortles throwing for four first downs, including three first-down converting passes on three third-down passes. Key to the drive: a 16-yard pass from Bortles to second-year wide receiver Dede Westbrook that Bortles released just before being hit. Bortles also converted first downs with third-down passes to wide receiver Marqise Lee and tight end James O’Shaughnessy. Running back Leonard Fournette also ran for 24 yards on five carries behind a first-team line playing without starting right tackle Jermey Parnell and starting left guard Andrew Norwell. The first-team offense left after that; its work was done. This is a quarterback and an offense that have been impressive throughout training camp. Both certainly started the preseason that way Thursday.

2.Early Thursday was about Bortles and the first-team offense. The next part of the game could prove nearly as important. That’s because the two and a half quarters after Bortles and the first-team offense left featured promising drives from a second-team offense led by backup quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler led first-half field-goal drives of 55 and 38 yards, then capped his night with a seven-yard touchdown pass to reserve tight end James Orndoff. Kessler, acquired in a trade from the Cleveland Browns after the Jaguars opted to not re-sign longtime backup quarterback Chad Henne, had struggled at times early in camp – but looked better late last week and early this week. He continued that trend Thursday, completing 14 of 17 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t spectacular, but he played turnover-free and appears capable of successfully navigating a few series – or even a few games – with a strong run-oriented offense and one of the NFL’s best defenses. That’s something the Jaguars needed to see during the preseason. So far, so good.

3.Third-year wide receiver Shane Wynn continues to make things difficult for Jaguars coaches. Wynn, whose playmaking ability stood out in camp before he spent last season on injured reserve with a leg injury, has a difficult task to make the roster. The Jaguars’ top five receivers – Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, Dede Westbrook, DJ Chark Jr. and Keelan Cole – all appear like locks to make the roster, but Wynn has played well enough in camp to have a chance at the No. 6 spot. That appears currently to be a competition between Wynn, Jaydon Mickens, Rashad Greene Sr. and perhaps rookie undrafted free agent Allen Lazard. Wynn led the Jaguars with 39 yards receiving on three receptions Thursday, and his 24-yard third-quarter reception from Kessler was the Jaguars’ longest play of the first three quarters. That was the sort of dynamic, downfield play Wynn has made routinely in camp. He is doing what a young player must do in training camp – making himself very tough to release. How tough? Enough that that release might not happen.

Sexton …

1.Forget the stats and don’t worry about the score. The names are the story this evening: Bortles, running back Leonard Fournette, wide receiver Dede Westbrook, wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr., running back T.J. Yeldon, kicker Josh Lambo and a few other guys whose performances were strong and whose impact was felt. Westbrook made a sliding catch for 16 yards to set up the first touchdown, Chark made a big third down catch in the second quarter for 15 yards and made a critical tackle on punt coverage. The preseason is about players, not statistics – and the Jaguars had plenty of guys who flashed - including rookie punter Logan Cooke, whose 56-yard punt at the end of the first half is the kind of “flip-the-field” effort that will really make a difference if he can keep it going.

2.Back to Bortles for a moment. Fifteen plays, 7:02 off the game clock and a touchdown on the opening drive … plus word filtered out that he delivered pregame remarks to his teammates, something more vocal guys usually handle. It was plain as day to anyone who watched that this is his stage and he’s ready to handle the white-hot spotlight that comes with a team most observers think will be in the hunt for a Super Bowl championship. A year ago, he was on the verge of losing his starting job. Today, he’s at the wheel of what may be the best team in the AFC – and one of the best in the NFL – and he looks like he’s ready to drive. It’s a very good sign for 2018 season.

3.The best news of the evening for the Jaguars: no season-ending – or even significant – injuries. There are a couple of guys who are working their way back after missing practice time this week and didn’t play, and a few others who will have to clear concussion protocol. But this remains a healthy team headed into the third week of training camp and the second game of the preseason.

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