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Ten things to watch for tonight


It's preseason. It's preseason. It's preseason.

That can't get repeated enough these days, and we&39;re not just talking about the (over)reaction in the last week to last Thursday&39;s one-sided loss to New England in the preseason opener.

We&39;re talking about Friday night&39;s preseason home opener against Atlanta, too.

Because while what happens at EverBank Field against one of the top teams in the NFC will be notable, and while the Jaguars would very much like a better result than the 47-12 loss to the Patriots, the reality remains that this is a preseason game.

And that means the Jaguars have more pertinent concerns than the score.

I talked a lot this week in a Jags All-Access segment about perception versus reality. It's a nice tool to use in the NFL, where fans and media often think one thing with the reality being quite another. It's always a critical tool in the preseason.

The perception was that the Jaguars were in trouble following the preseason opener.

The reality was there overall was a positive feeling among coaches and players. They didn't love losing by 35 points, but they saw the reality of an offensive line putting a few key pieces in place, of a defensive line doing the same and playing without three starters. They saw the reality of new faces in new places, and a lot of old faces on the sidelines watching.

They also saw the reality of a young quarterback developing, and a few red-zone opportunities missed. A mistake here or there in the NFL and things can go from bad to worse.

When that&39;s true in the regular season, it&39;s cause for concern, analysis and teeth-gnashing.

When it's true in the preseason, it's time for a team to look at film, see what went wrong and improve on it. That's what the Jaguars did this week, and for the most part, practices were more efficient. There's a feeling around the building that pieces are coming into place.

This team added a lot in the off-season. The pieces that were already here are for the most part young pieces. Teams come together at different paces.

The pace for the Jaguars may or may not translate into more palpable preseason scores. That's of no concern. What they want is for it to translate into being ready for the regular season.

That said, here's a look at 10 things to watch for the Jaguars entering the Falcons game:

1.The quarterback issue.Quarterback is getting interesting. We&39;ll talk about each player individually later in this list, but there is a sense this competition is turning into a real competition, Rookie Blaine Gabbert took snaps with the starters this week, and while David Garrard remains the starter, the Jaguars won&39;t be dim about this. If one player dramatically outperforms the other in the coming weeks, the better player almost certainly will start. That&39;s how it should be.

2.The return of Garrard.Garrard hasn't taken an in-game hit since December. He'll get some Friday, and that will be a test for his sore back. He looked sharp in practice this week.

3.The rookie redux.Gabbert&39;s work with the first-team in practice this week was notable because he got it with Garrard having returned. Whether or not he works with the first team in the game, he'll play extensively. He made some mistakes in practice this week, and had some eye-catching throws. Expect more of the same, but look for a gradual trend upward.

4. Efficiency upgrade.Whoever's at quarterback, the Jaguars want to show better offensive efficiency. Fewer drops. Fewer offensive line mistakes. This got better in practice this week. It needs to translate to the game.

5.Sticky hands.Early on in practice, and against the Patriots, the receivers had too many drops. That seemed to right itself this week. The team is counting in a group of largely untested receivers this season, and they need to be improving as the season approaches.

6.Turnover time.The defense hit hard early last week, and created at least four turnover opportunities. They got one. They need to turn opportunities into reality. They can be a habit, and it's good to get into that habit early.

7.The Roth Effect.The Jaguars are liking the addition of pass-rushing end Matt Roth a lot. He instantly became the team's strongest defensive end, and should make the pass rush more effective.

8.Run, Deji, run.Deji Kareem is one of the most exciting players on the roster. With Maurice Jones-Drew out and running back Rashad Jennings coming off a concussion, he'll do a lot more than return kickoffs Friday. That probably won't translate to too, too much in the regular season, not with MJD and Jennings in front of him, but he could be a huge factor in a preseason game.

9.Hitting and running.The Jaguars' defense showed signs early against the Patriots of playing how they want to play – fast and loose, hitting and swarming. They want to see more of it for longer Friday.

10.A bit more real.The first half should be more of a realistic gauge this week. Look for the starters to play more in the first half, so it's OK to worry a bit – just a bit – more about the score in the first two quarters. After that . . .

. . . well, after that, don't sweat the final score one way or the other. Sure, everyone would like to see better play. And the Jaguars are confident they'll get it. That still doesn't mean the score matters.

It's preseason. It's preseason. It's preseason. 

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