JACKSONVILLE – The first game is at hand. At last.
The Jaguars will open the 2021 preseason against the Cleveland Browns at TIAA Bank Field Saturday at 7 p.m. The game is their first of any kind under Head Coach Urban Meyer, which makes it his first NFL game of any kind. That's a cool, significant first.
The game also will mark a slew of other "firsts," including the first NFL game of any kind for quarterback Trevor Lawrence – the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That's cool, too.
"We're really excited," Lawrence said this week. "We've been working the last three or four weeks – but really since the spring. We're just trying to get ready for these moments. This will be good. A lot of people are going to play. In our minds, this is a real game. We'll try to win the game.
"A lot of people look at preseason differently, but in my mind this is where it starts for the Jaguars this year."
So, yes … Saturday matters on many levels. Because of many firsts.
It will be the first time for Meyer on the Jaguars' sideline – and the first time for Lawrence with the Jaguars. It also will mark a significant first look into a new Jaguars offense coordinated by Darrell Bevell and a new Jaguars defense coordinated by Joe Cullen.
Let's face it. Pretty much everything about the Jaguars entering '21 is about firsts. A first look at a revamped defensive line. And at a revamped receiving corps. And a revamped secondary. While we saw glimpses of all these firsts during the offseason and 2021 training camp, a preseason game means an extended look. For that reason, there's no shortage of storylines for the Jaguars Saturday.
Here's a look at 10 of the biggest:
1)Who will start at quarterback? This remained unanswered when Meyer met with the media Thursday, with the head coach saying that Lawrence and veteran Gardner Minshew II both will play. This irritated some observers, but hey … one of them will start Saturday. Which means we'll know soon enough. What's the harm of some drama?
2)The development of the rookie. We saw good things from Lawrence during the offseason and we have seen more good things in the past week. The arrow is way, way up. The next step is a real opponent. That comes Saturday.
3)Health. This always matters during the preseason. The Jaguars have signed multiple receivers during camp because multiple players at the position are dealing with a variety of minor injuries. All injuries for the Jaguars in this camp have been minor. A focus will be keeping it that way.
4)The offensive line. The Jaguars kept their starting five offensive linemen from the last two seasons and brought back veteran offensive line coach George Warhop from the previous staff. The idea was to have continuity, cohesion and quality in front of what likely will be a rookie quarterback. The group should be a strength on a young team that changed dramatically around most of the rest of the roster.
5)Walker Little. The Jaguars selected Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little No. 45 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. He has the look of a future core player on the line. Can he force his way into a starting role – at tackle or somewhere – as a rookie? Stay tuned.
6)Depth at wide receiver. The Jaguars' top three wide receivers – DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr. – appear pretty much set. But a slew of other receivers – Laquon Treadwell, Phillip Dorsett II, Jalen Agnew, Collin Johnson, Tavon Austin and Jalen Camp – have shown up during camp. That's a lot of receivers for not as many roster spots. Preseason games could matter here.
7.The defensive front. Meyer made improving the defensive line an offseason priority, trading for defensive tackle Malcom Brown, signing ends Jihad Ward and Roy Robertson-Harris as unrestricted free agents and selecting tackle Jay Tufele in Round 4 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Saturday will provide a glimpse of just where those players fit in a new defensive scheme.
8)A look at the offense … A major question entering 2021 is just how the offense will look under Meyer, Bevell and passing-game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Expect a dynamic offense emphasizing multiple looks – and multiple receivers and backs getting touches in various ways. Don't expect the Jaguars to show the entire offense in the preseason, but Saturday will be the best look yet.
9) … and the defense. Cullen has said throughout camp the Jaguars will blitz often this season – and that they will do so from all positions on the defense. The Jaguars aren't likely to show their entire blitz packages in the preseason, but this will be a first glimpse at Cullen's creative approach.
10.Speed, intensity and effort. Meyer's coaching style emphasizes what he refers to as "A-to-B, four-to-six and a plus-two" mentality. The terms all refer to maximum effort, focus and approach. "I expect a winner mentality," Meyer said Thursday. "The reality is there are people across from you trying to take your job. Some of these guys are in survival mode. I respect that. Every play is going to be graded. You either win the rep or you lose the rep. I'm hoping you see a real competitive group Saturday."