JACKSONVILLE – August's most-anticipated Jaguars moment is at hand.
And if that's not as important as what will happen in the months ahead, Thursday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, nonetheless has a bigger feel than a normal preseason game.
The Jaguars will play starters and front-line players.
That wouldn't normally generate all that much interest, but this hasn't been a normal Jaguars preseason. That's because Head Coach Doug Marrone has held most familiar names and stars out of the first two preseason games to keep the team as healthy as possible entering the regular-season opener against Kansas City on September 8.
Quarterback Nick Foles …
Running back Leonard Fournette …
Defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue …
All are expected to make their 2019 preseason debuts in a game that will be televised nationally on FOX, though playing doesn't necessarily mean playing for very long. There also remains a chance several front-line players will miss Thursday's game because of injuries; Marrone likely will be more cautious on that front than he would be in the regular season.
Still, considering how long we've waited to see anything close to the '19 Jaguars, a short amount of time will be better than nothing. A lot better, actually.
Here are 10 things to watch for the Jaguars Thursday:
1)Who's in? For how long? Many Jaguars players are expected to make their '19 preseason debut: Campbell, Foles, Fournette, Ramsey, Ngakoue, cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive tackle Abry Jones, wide receiver Dede Westbrook, linebacker Myles Jack and so on. The guess here is they will play into the second quarter, but not much after that: Enough to get some reps without undue injury risk.
2)Foles … The Jaguars signed Foles as an unrestricted free agent in March, but this will be his first game of any kind with his new team. Two or three preseason series won't write Foles' Jacksonville story, but a few extended drives and a score or two would set a wanted tone.
3)… and the wide receivers. This is intertwined with Foles, and no part of the Jaguars will be as scrutinized early in the season as the passing offense. The team signed Foles with the idea that his accuracy and poise would improve not only the quarterback position, but also help a receiver position that struggled last season. Foles has shown good chemistry with receivers Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley and DJ Chark Jr. in practice. It's time to translate that to a game situation.
4)The health of the offensive line ... Marrone and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo both made clear this week they want to see the starting offensive line work together during the preseason. The projected starting line of left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jawaan Taylor practiced together for the first time this week. Still, Norwell, Robinson and Taylor all were out of practice last week. Will all be cleared to play Thursday? That likely won't be known until shortly before kickoff.
5. … and the play of the line. The line is the Jaguars' great unknown as the regular-season approaches. Yes, the line needs to be healthy. But it also needs to be a team strength – and it needs to start showing that relatively quickly.
6)Fournette. The third-year running back has looked good in training camp. He appears to have put his off-field troubles of the last two seasons behind him. A few strong runs behind a functioning offensive line would be another tone-setting moment.
7)The pass rush. The pass-rushing front of ends Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue outside and end Calais Campbell and tackle Marcell Dareus inside was a major topic early in camp. Dareus has been out of practice in recent days with an elbow issue, but Thursday could be a first chance to see Ngakoue, Campbell and Allen on the field in a game at the same time.
8)Penalties. Marrone has made clear he wants the Jaguars to be a smart team. They have had double-digit penalties in each of the first two preseason games. That's not smart.
9)The first three series … on both sides of the ball for the Jaguars will be analyzed and scrutinized to a ridiculous extent in the coming weeks, and with reason. The Jaguars won't be game-planning extensively against Miami, so it's not the best gauge of what is to come. Still, no coach wants to see his starters outplayed in Week 3 of the preseason.
10)The injury issue. Getting a few repetitions is great, but Marrone's objective in holding most starters and front-line players out of the first two preseason games was health. This team hasn't sustained any major season-ending injuries. It sure doesn't want to start doing so in the core players' lone appearance of the preseason.