JACKSONVILLE – The end is near – the end of the preseason, anyway.
And while there once was a time preseason finales featured some extensive – for preseason, anyway – playing time for front-line players, that time, generally speaking, has passed.
What does that mean for the Jaguars on Thursday?
For one, it means quarterback Blake Bortles and the first-team offense won't play a lot against the Washington Redskins in the preseason finale, if at all. And it means a lot of the overarching conclusions – what conclusions can be drawn from preseason, anyway – pretty much have been drawn.
Yes, in a lot of cases, we've seen what we're going to see this preseason.
But IF the starters do play – and that's a big if – there might be a couple of gains for those players to be made. And for non-starters, there absolutely are decisions to be made – career-making and career-ending ones in many cases – afterward.
So, what needs to happen for the Jaguars in the preseason finale? Here are 10 things:
1.Stay healthy.Circle it, type it in bold and shout it from the roofs if you must. Despite a slew of injuries, pulls and sprains, the Jaguars for the most part have avoided the so-called catastrophic preseason injury. Wide receiver Arrelious Benn (broken collarbone, out for season) and defensive end Andre Branch (sprained medial collateral ligament, out for a significant period) are the exceptions. Keep them that way.
2.Protect Blake Bortles.This is contingent on Bortles playing, of course. But whoever plays quarterback early – Bortles or Chad Henne – you want to see him protected. The offensive line has improved in this area on a remarkable level. Keep it up for one more preseason game and keep that positive feeling entering the regular season. This area involves Luke Joeckel, too: the left tackle has looked good at times in preseason and inconsistent at others. A solid series or two in the preseason finale would send him into the regular season on a positive note.
3.Run.The Jaguars didn't do it effectively against Detroit last week. That made some people forget how well they did it in Preseason Weeks 1 and 2. Do it for a while in the preseason finale and they may remember.
4.Rush the passer.The first-team defensive line has gotten little pressure in three preseason games, particularly on first and second downs. With Branch out for an extended period, Chris Smith is going to play Leo in those situations. Look for him to get some time Thursday. The pass rush isn't all the responsibility of the Leo, but when the first team group plays Thursday, seeing some early pressure would be a positive sight.
5.Find a fifth receiver.Head Coach Gus Bradley said this week this position appeared to be down to Bryan Walters and Tony Washington. The guess here is Walters' reliability and versatility (punt returner/four-core special teams player) gives him the edge. That's just a guess, but both should play extensively Thursday.
6.Score a touchdown.This is about the first-team offensive unit, because any first-team offensive unit loves to have a successful final tune-up for the regular season. So if the starters indeed play … but you know what? Scratch that: the first-team offense has scored on eight of 11 preseason drives. They scored two touchdowns and a field goal last week. Whatever happens Thursday, that group is improved – and it's as ready as possible entering the regular season.
7.Decide the last five.This team will have some tricky decisions over the weekend. How many offensive linemen to keep? How many wide receivers? Tight ends? There appear to be a whole lot of defensive linemen for not quite that many spots. Not all of these decisions will be based on Thursday, but for a few players, how they play against the Redskins could influence the front-office's thinking just enough.
8.Get an interception.A preseason/training camp objective was to increase interceptions. The Jaguars haven't had one in the preseason, so that objective has not been reached. That doesn't mean it won't be reached in the regular season, but an early turnover would darned sure get the visiting sideline excited.
9.Get stops.The Lions had two quick-strike drives last Saturday, and there have been a few more defensive lapses than has been ideal. Get a couple of three-and outs, get off the field and get to the regular season.
10.STAY HEALTHY!!Did we mention this? We did. Good.