JACKSONVILLE -- Senior writer John Oehser's 10 things the Jaguars must do in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday …
1.Establish a tone.Yes, this is a bit vague and wouldn't mean much for many teams. But the Jaguars enter this preseason in an important situation. There's a positive feeling and energy on this team. It believes it has improved. It believes in Gus Bradley's message and David Caldwell's personnel moves. The first game against outside competition is a time to show that belief is warranted.
2.Get Bortles going.This is a touch vague, too, but we all know what it means. The Jaguars have deeper, better roster, but a tremendous amount depends on Bortles. He isn't yet going to be an elite, Pro Bowl-level quarterback. That's not a fair expectation in Year Two with a young offense that's still learning itself. But it is fair to ask for more consistency – and more big plays and big moments. We saw glimpses of this in the scrimmage Saturday. Seeing more against the Steelers would be an ideal way to establish the tone.
3.Get better on the offensive line.This is a crucial "must" throughout the preseason and into the regular season. The Jaguars' offense allowed 71 sacks last season and the team struggled to run. That's not all on the line, but the line has to play better. Better to do that as quickly as possible.
4.Move forward at center …The Jaguars are trying to figure out the starter between Luke Bowanko and Stefen Wisniewski. That probably won't be decided Friday, but it's going to be decided soon – and Friday's going to have a lot to do with it.
5. … and at left guard.Right now, Zane Beadles is running with the first team and A.J. Cann is running with the second team. It may stay that way into the regular season, but there's also a feeling that Cann's talent level and fit with the run-blocking scheme may give him a legitimate chance at the starting position. His performance – and the performance of Beadles – during the preseason will be watched closely. Stay tuned.
6.Run. Bradley has made it clear he wants this team to be able to run effectively this season. That's true whether it's T.J. Yeldon, Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson … whoever. The Jaguars don't have to dominate in the run in the preseason opener, but some effective, downhill runs against the Steelers would be a very good start.
7.Stay healthy.The roster is better. It's deeper. It's not deep enough to withstand significant injuries. Julius Thomas. Yeldon. Allen Robinson. Bortles. There are a handful of guys who must stay healthy. Those four are a start.
8.Penetrate up front.This is a wide-ranging "must" that focuses on the defensive front seven. This is a group that has looked very good in training camp. The feeling is the strong-side defense is improved, and that this will be a good team against the run. That should help the pass rush. You want to see evidence of that Friday.
9.Intercept passes.The Jaguars' defense wasn't statistically impressive last season, but it played winning football a lot of the time. One area that lacked was interceptions. The unit forced only six last season. Improving that number is a huge offseason/training camp theme. An interception or two Friday would bolster the confidence of a back seven that already looks improved.
10.Win. Really? Win? A preseason game? In this case, perhaps. While preseason games don't count in the standings and nothing is lost or gained with a victory, the Jaguars have won seven regular-season games in two seasons. Getting used to the feeling of winning certainly can't hurt. At the least, the Jaguars need to play well early. This team needs to get used to success. Friday is the time to start.