JACKSONVILLE – This is a bit realer than the last one.
That's the week-by-week story of the NFL preseason – until the last preseason game, anyway – and that makes Saturday a bit more important for the Jaguars than what took place a week ago.
The Jaguars looked good early in the 2016 preseason opener against the Jets, and some of that carried over to the team's two joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field this week.
The Jaguars will finish their week of work against Tampa Bay by playing host to the Bucs at EverBank in the second game of the 2016 preseason Saturday.
As for practice this week, quarterback Blake Bortles looked sharp throughout the week in red-zone drills. The offense overall looked better late in practice than it did early, and Head Coach Gus Bradley talked on Wednesday of the team needing to overcome a bit of anxiety early in practice.
Overall? Well, overall, the two practices against the Buccaneers were just that. Practice. That means that while they were interesting, they don't necessarily reflect what will happen in the regular season.
That's true of the preseason, too, but Week 2 preseason is perhaps a touch more indicative than Week 1 – though not nearly as indicative as the first half of Week 3. So, what do the Jaguars want to see when they and the Bucs move from the practice fields to playing fields on Saturday?
Here are 10 things:
1.Start fast.Again with this? Yes … again with this. The Jaguars' rightfully gained confidence from their two-possession, 10-point first-quarter performance against the Jets. The unit dictated tempo, ran effectively and nearly registered back-to-back touchdown drives. This offense looked the part of an improved growing unit. Make that a trend.
2.Put in a good first quarter and a half.Bradley hasn't officially said who will play how much against the Buccaneers, but starters and front-line players typically play about a quarter and a half in Preseason Week 2. That should mean three or four series for Bortles and the first-team offense. If they look good on two or three of those drives – and if the defense looks fast and disruptive – that's more than enough for this week.
3.Be efficient.Bortles said before the preseason opener and again this week that a huge preseason priority was not doing stupid things. That means getting out of huddle the right way, getting the plays right, not having silly penalties. Some observers found that a silly preseason goal, but that's what you want early in preseason – to see that all players are on the same page. That allows the talent to play to its potential – and there is enough talent on this offense that its potential is very, very high.
4.Be quick, look healthy.This is about defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks. He looked quicker and better in practice this week than early in training camp. He said he's healthy and fully recovered from the anterior cruciate ligament and triceps injuries that ended his 2014 and 2015 seasons, respectively. He was looking right again this week, like his former self. If he keeps looking like that it gives this defense another disruptive lineman. That's important.
5.Get pressure.This is about defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., but it's about the entire defensive front, too. Fowler wasn't as dominant in the preseason opener or against the Buccaneers this past week as he had been early in training camp. That's not a crisis, but the pass rush remains enough of an issue for this team that you want to see early pressure.
6.Reduce penalties.The Jaguars committed 12 penalties for 132 yards against the Jets. That's too many and need to be reduced. Here's guessing that will happen. Bradley's teams never have been overly penalized and there's no reason to think that will change.
Take a look at some of the best images form the second joint practice with the Tampa Bay Bucs on Thursday.
7.Get turnover – or two.The defense emphasized stripping the ball and forcing turnovers throughout the offseason and training camp – with positive results. They didn't get similar results in the preseason opener. Bradley likes to say takeaways come in bunches. The Jaguars don't need a bunch Saturday, but one or two would be a positive.
8.Run.The Jaguars ran well against the Jets, particularly behind the starting right side of the line. That had the feel of something on which the team can rely once the regular season begins. That needs to be true, and the Jaguars would love to see it again Saturday.
9.Build on Week 1.This is true of several Jaguars players, but it particularly pertains to third-year wide receiver Marqise Lee. He was healthy throughout the offseason, and after missing much of the first week of training camp with a hamstring injury, he has looked healthy, quick, confident and effective. If what we're seeing from Lee in the last week and a half is real, it's good news for him – and it changes the big-play dynamic of this offense.
10.Stay healthy.This is, was and always will be Preseason Priority One. The Jaguars are more talented than recent versions, but not deep enough to withstand waylaying injuries. Then again, that's true of most NFL teams.