MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The week was about work, and the work was good.
The Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings held two joint practices this week at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in advance of their preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m. The facility was state-of-the-art, and the week passed with nary a scrap, scrape or skirmish.
The Jaguars' offense looked sporadic at best Wednesday. Head Coach Doug Marrone made clear that whatever the offensive issues were Wednesday, they were a team thing and not a Blake Bortles thing. He also made clear the unit was better the following day.
As for the defense, that side looked all week as it typically looks: fast, confident and good – even with cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Dante Fowler Jr. not in attendance. The unit started strong Wednesday, and got better with an impressive, swarming effort Thursday.
Now the teams cap the week with a preseason game.
The Jaguars are still in practice mode, which means very little game-planning this week. Coaches were to introduce a game plan Friday, but nothing on par with the regular season.
Though Marrone didn't say as much publicly this week, look to see the starters perhaps a bit more than in the preseason opener against New Orleans last Thursday: a couple of series, meaning maybe 15-to-20 plays.
They'll likely get more in Preseason Week 3 versus Atlanta next week, then the preseason finale the following week will be pretty much reserves only.
With that in mind, here are 10 things to watch when the Jaguars play the Vikings in the second game of the 2018 preseason Saturday:
1.Blake Bortles. The first-team offense impressed against New Orleans. Much of that was the quarterback. Bortles was crisp and poised against the Saints' rush. The Vikings' defense is a tougher test. A 15-play, 79-yard touchdown drive as against New Orleans is a tall order. But you want to see Bortles sharp, and you want to see a few third downs converted.
2.Separation. The Jaguars' wide receivers have looked good throughout training camp. The group looked better Thursday than they did Wednesday against a very good Vikings secondary. If the Jaguars front-line receivers can produce against Minnesota, they can produce against anyone.
3.Health. So far, so good for the Jaguars in this area. It's still the No. 1 preseason concern.
4.Early swarm. The Jaguars' defense was expectedly impressive in the joint practices, particularly the defensive front. If the front of ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and tackles Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus can disrupt a couple of series Saturday as they did all week, they'll feel good about the week as the team heads home Saturday night.
5.Cody Kessler. Bortles and the first-team offense were a focus in practice this week, but Saturday is big for Kessler. His performance against the Saints inspired confidence. Keeping that inspiration is his preseason task.
6.Run, Leonard, run. Establishing the run in preseason is tricky, because there aren't always a lot of reps in which to establish anything. But Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette averaged 4.8 yards on five carries against New Orleans. A performance such as that – with similar push from the offensive line – would mean a good day.
7.Ronnie Harrison. The Jaguars have worked the rookie safety with the starters in a so-called "heavy nickel" defense, with Harrison on the field along with safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson and the starting cornerbacks. This isn't the normal nickel package, which features cornerback D.J. Hayden at nickel with the four starting defensive backs, but it's a package the Jaguars can use against certain offensive looks. This is a wrinkle to watch.
8.The first-team line. The offensive front performed well against the Saints, but the Vikings' front is a different task. Keep an eye on Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson, who appeared to improve Thursday against Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Robinson's development alongside All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell is critical.
9.Quenton Meeks and Tre Herndon. The Jaguars signed both as undrafted free agents. Both rookies have stood out in camp and continued to do so this week. They appear to have a chance to turn into the young depth the team needs at the position.
10.Logan Cooke/special teams. The rookie punter has been impressive throughout camp. That must continue because punting and field position is critical for a team that wants to emphasize defense and the run as the Jaguars do. But watch special teams throughout Friday. If players are standing out there, then they have a real chance to be on the 53-man roster.