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Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Saints week

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) talks with wide receiver Dede Westbrook (12) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) during the NFL football team's training camp, Wednesday, Aug. 1st, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles via AP Images)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) talks with wide receiver Dede Westbrook (12) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) during the NFL football team's training camp, Wednesday, Aug. 1st, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles via AP Images)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton with three quick thoughts as the Jaguars prepare to play the New Orleans Saints at TIAA Bank Field in the 2018 preseason opener …

Oehser …

1.One of the more intriguing stories of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp came when offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett spoke to the media Monday. Hackett went into detail about quarterback Blake Bortles' growth in the offense – specifically, his ability to understand and execute every option in a play as opposed to only a play's basics. This should reveal itself this season in Bortles finding the third, fourth and even fifth option in a passing play more often. When people wonder what quarterbacks gain from experience – and what they gain from being in an offensive system over an extended time – that's it. Bortles according to Hackett is showing those benefits in a big way during training camp. Also important along these lines: players such as wide receivers Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook as well as all three Jaguars running backs are also in their second season in the system. The increased cohesion and understanding of the scheme could be a major issue and a major area of improvement for an offense that ranked sixth in the NFL in total yards last season.

2.One of the primary sources of offseason angst for Jaguars fans may end up as a strength in 2018. The position: wide receivers, and the early days/weeks of training camp have been strong for one of the team's most scrutinized positions. Wide receiver Keelan Cole has shown the same downfield playmaking ability as he showed as a rookie last season, and veteran Marqise Lee has looked good since returning from an injury that kept him out a few days last week in training camp's first full week. But the most encouraging part of camp at this position so far has been the performance of rookie DJ Chark Jr. and veteran Dede Westbrook. Chark has shown speed and playmaking ability on intermediate and deep routes, and Westbrook has made athletic, diving plays in basically every practice. Offseason free-agent signee Donte Moncrief – like Lee – has been strong since missing time last week, and this group is looking like a balanced unit capable of making enough plays to ease the pressure on the running game.

3.An NFL truth is that preseason isn't always a great gauge of how a team will fare during the season. That may be particularly true of the Jaguars this season. The reason: this team's style, particularly offensively. The Jaguars are far more run-centric than many teams, and are far more patient in the running game than most NFL teams. The running game often takes time in games – and even in seasons – to find a groove, and the run doesn't always dazzle on a game's first series or two. So, if the occasional drive doesn't click early Thursday, it's no reason for panic. Remember the panic that reigned around this team over pretty much the entire offense last preseason, particularly quarterback Blake Bortles? When the Jaguars play the Saints Thursday, watch for individual performances. Watch to make sure certain groups aren't getting overwhelmed physically. Watch to see if a few young players look the part. But don't fret at the final score and don't panic over anything. It's preseason. Remember that.

Sexton …

1.No doubt you've heard that training camp isn't as tough as back when football was practiced twice a day. Try telling that to Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone's team, which on Tuesday finished its eighth consecutive fully padded practice in 10 days; I'm guessing they don't want to hear it. The last three days in particular have been a grind for me – and I'm just walking around watching. So, I struggle to see anything "easy" about what Marrone's throwing at his players. The weather has been the only thing more intense than the pace of practice, and Marrone's constantly changing things up to keep his team from finding anything close to a comfort zone. I've written before that Training Camp 2017 was more draining mentally than physically. I believe that to be the case again this summer, but you could make an argument that those two-and-a-half hours in the blazing sun with a coach who is never happy is plenty tough physically.

2.One guy I'm interested in watching Thursday is rookie safety Ronnie Harrison. Harrison is long and rangy and he has shown the ability to cover a lot of ground in a hurry. Time after time, he's in the middle of the action in the middle of the field and most of the time he's the one breaking up a pass. Now, admittedly, it's against the second and third teams – but he looks completely comfortable, which often is the case for Alabama kids after a few years in Head Coach Nick Saban's program. I had him as the most likely rookie to start a game in 2018 before strong-side linebacker Leon Jacobs emerged this summer, but I still think he'll make an impact. Safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are extremely physical players, and the odds say one of them will need some recovery time this season after each started all 16 games last year. The game isn't too big for Harrison. In fact, it looks as if he might be a building block for the next generation of this defense.

3.Speaking of rookies, can you imagine if what we saw from punter Logan Cooke last Friday evening is what we get? Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis bent my ear on field position one day last spring for nearly an hour; it's the lens through which he views the game. His belief, underscored by more than 30 years in professional football, is that the name of the game is points, but points are gained more often and more rapidly through field position. Cooke showed a monster leg in the Florida Blue Family Night practice at TIAA Bank Field. Even more impressive was his accuracy in dropping the ball inside the 20-yard line. If he's that good, he's the 12th Man for this Jaguars defense. It's a defense that would benefit greatly from having the kind of field position that lets them get inside the heads of their opponents deep inside their own territory with guys like Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith and Jalen Ramsey lurking about.

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