FOXBORO, Mass. – It's not real, but it's pretty close.
And for the Jaguars, there's a lot that's really important about the preseason opener.
That will be true on many high-profile fronts early for the Jaguars against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
It will stay true throughout the game as players fight for roster spots.
For Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, Thursday matters. A lot. We don't know how long he will play, but whether it's a couple of series – or a quarter – everything the fourth-year veteran does has importance. This preseason and training camp is that big for him.
Where else does the 2017 preseason opener against the defending Super Bowl champions matter for the Jaguars? Some areas stand out from the others.
Here are 10 of those areas – 10 things to watch for the Jaguars in the 2017 preseason opener:
1) Bortles.A good series or two won't answer all questions or alleviate all doubts, but it wouldn't hurt. A few series showing command of the offense, confidence and accuracy would be great start. An interception or even a couple of three-and-outs? Ugh.
2) Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr.Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. It will be key this season for the defense – maybe as important as quarterback for the offense. Ngakoue had some really good moments in the dual practices this week, while Fowler was dismissed from the field twice on Tuesday. The Jaguars would love to see pressure off the edge from this duo in some manner Thursday.
3) Myles Jack.The second-year linebacker will be making his first NFL start in the middle Thursday. His ability to make defensive calls and communicate from the middle position is a major storyline of the offseason, and the Patriots' complex offense makes those tough tasks.
4) Leonard Fournette.This is intertwined with the next three offensive-line oriented topics, but Fournette deserves a topic to himself. The rookie No. 4 overall selection has stood out during camp, and he has shown all the signs of making an immediate impact. Fournette won't likely get a ton of carries Thursday, and he's not guaranteed to start, but what few carries he does get will be major events for anyone watching Thursday with a Jaguars interest. This team needs Fournette to be great. And fast.
5) The O-Line.This is more than a one-topic area, so we'll break it into three. Can this line get push in the running game? Can it protect Bortles? It was adequate in the latter area last season, but whether the line can get push in the running game is an unanswered question. The Jaguars struggled in a goal-line drill against the Patriots Monday and were better Tuesday. Any early short-yardage situation Thursday will be something to watch.
6) The O-Line II.Head Coach Doug Marrone on Wednesday seemed warm to the idea of starting rookie left tackle Cam Robinson Thursday. Whether that happens or not, he seems all but certain to start Week 1 in Houston. He's talented and projected to be a good player, but the Jaguars need to get a long look at him throughout the preseason.
7) The O-Line III.Yes, there's a lot to watch on the offensive line Thursday. Eyes will be on the right side of the line early, with guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jermey Parnell needing to improve on their 2016 performance. Eyes, too, will be on left guard Patrick Omameh; Marrone has praised the veteran in recent days and he is the clear leader to start at left guard Week 1.
8) The corners.How deep is the Jaguars' cornerback position? We'll get an early look at that answer Thursday with starter Jalen Ramsey and nickel Aaron Corner on the physically unable to perform list and starter A.J. Bouye unlikely to play. It will be a huge opportunity for Doran Grant. And Brian Dixon. And Tyler Patmon. And Josh Johnson. And Jalen Myrick. And …
9) Special teams.This can be a crazy area during the preseason – a lot of young guys playing a lot of different roles. But the Jaguars struggled in this area last season, and they placed a major emphasis on it this offseason. And special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis won't care that there are young guys in a lot of different roles, or that it's the preseason opener. Or that special teams can be crazy in the preseason. He's not one for excuses. He'll want performance. Period.
10) Fast and physical.A preseason opener rarely tells you everything about a team. Starters only play a couple of series, and there are tons of new faces in new places for the Jaguars. But the Jaguars want to be physical, and they're supposed to be fast. They'll want to look that way Thursday, especially early.