JACKSONVILLE – This won't be about star power.
You probably already know that about the Jaguars' preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons – just as you probably already know it won't be about name recognition, starters or even many backups.
Such now is the nature of NFL preseason finales, which once were about starters playing enough to "keep the rust off" but for much of the last decade have been about starters standing on sidelines and marginal players fighting for roster spots.
That will define Jaguars-Falcons at TIAA Bank Field Thursday at 7 p.m., a game that for the Jaguars will look a lot like a preseason-opening loss at Baltimore and a Preseason Week 2 loss to Philadelphia.
Healthy rookies played in those games. A few young veterans with a lot still to prove did, too. But anyone marginally injured didn't play, and very few significant contributors did, either.
Thursday figures to look like that to a greater degree. But while you won't see starters, you will see some players fighting for jobs – and you'll see a lot of players trying to take advantage of what could be a final chance to impress not only the Jaguars but every other NFL team.
So, what to watch Thursday? With or without the starters, there are plenty of things.
Here are 10:
1.More Minshew. Rookie backup quarterback Gardner Minshew looked better in Preseason Weeks 2 and 3 than when he struggled in a preseason-opening loss at Baltimore. But he could use a more consistent performance to build confidence for the regular season.
2.Can the offense score? The Jaguars' offense has scored 17 preseason points, with starter Nick Foles leading a touchdown drive last week against Miami and third-team quarterback Alex McGough scoring late in preseason Week 2 against Philadelphia. Minshew said leading touchdowns drives clearly is his next step. "We've got to finish," Minshew said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a lot last week – whether it was penalties, missed balls, drops … we've just got to get on the same page to where we're not stopping us."
3.McGough time. While Minshew likely will play extensively Thursday, he won't likely play the entire game. That will give McGough a final chance this preseason. The guess here is the Jaguars won't keep three quarterbacks, but McGough probably has shown enough to be on the practice squad.
4.Will he or won't he? Rookie Quincy Williams – the projected starting weak-side linebacker – returned to practice Tuesday after missing the first three preseason games while rehabilitating from meniscus surgery. Head Coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday he was torn between playing Williams for experience or keeping him out to avoid injury. Marrone has erred on the side of extreme caution throughout training camp and it wouldn't be a surprise if he did so again.
5.Will they or won't they I? Will Richardson Jr. versus A.J. Cann at right guard represents the lone competition for a starting job. Marrone said this week he was pleased with how both players played in camp and preseason – and that he didn't need to see either player to decide a starter. The guess here is both players will be held out.
6.Will they or won't they II? Preseason Week 4 is not only about fighting for roster spots; it's also about getting young veterans needed reps. Defensive linemen Dawuane Smoot and Taven Bryan fell into that category in Preseason Weeks 1 and 2. The guess here is Bryan will play Thursday while Smoot may not.
7.The last linebacker spot. Myles Jack, Leon Jacobs, Williams, Najee Goode will make the roster, but who will be the fifth (and possible sixth)? Keep an eye on veteran D.J. Alexander for the fifth spot with free-agent rookie Joe Giles-Harris a possibility for the roster or practice squad.
8.Rookie tight end Charles Jones. He impressed coaches early in camp with his blocking ability and potential, but injuries kept him out the last two games. He figures to be at least on the practice squad with potential to be on the roster at some point in the season – maybe early.
9.The bubble. The final roster spots depend on many issues – injuries and practice-squad eligibility chief among them. But potential intriguing decisions this weekend could include left tackle Josh Wells, running backs Thomas Rawls/Devante Mays, wide receivers Tre McBride/Tyre Brady/C.J. Board/Terrelle Pryor Sr., tight end Ben Koyack, defensive lineman Datone Jones, linebacker Ramik Wilson and cornerbacks Breon Borders/Josh Robinson/Quenton Meeks. If any of those players aren't playing Thursday, they probably have secured roster spots. The guess here is most – if not all – will play.
10.The health issue. This perhaps isn't quite as vital Thursday as the first three preseason games because most key contributors won't play. Still, there will be a lot of depth on the field for the Jaguars Thursday, and no team needs its depth injured.