JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five takeaways Thursday as the Jaguars prepare to play the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday …
1)Excited about Cyp. We begin Thursday takeaways with Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien, and there's more to his season-opening story than what he will be able to do Sunday and how long he can do it. The third-year veteran will play with a device protecting a finger injury, and Head Coach Gus Bradley said the expectation is Cyprien will play the whole game without limitations. But the bigger story is the Jaguars believe Cyprien has improved and is ready for a very good season. "Johnathan expects big things from himself and I'm telling you, he's putting it on tape to the point where we believe he's going to be a playmaker this year," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said Wednesday. Bradley talked Wednesday about Cyprien's poise and the speed at which he is playing. "I'm excited to see what takes place for Cyp this year," Bradley said. As for the cast, Cyprien is working through it. "It's going to be fun – I'm going to be making a lot of big hits," he said. While he dropped three interceptions in practice Wednesday, one he caught Thursday had him smiling. "I stayed back and practiced catching," Cyprien said. "I got one today, so practice makes perfect."
2)Added responsibility.The Jaguars are looking for ways to pressure the passer, and one area they may look doesn't involve the front four. When the Jaguars signed veteran linebacker Dan Skuta as an unrestricted free agent this offseason to play the Otto position, a strength the team discussed was Skuta's ability to provide pass rush if needed. With tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and end Andre Branch expected to miss multiple games at the start of the season, Babich said Thursday there's a "chance" that need could arise early. "You saw in the preseason: he (Skuta) got in and did some pass rushing and in two-minute situations, he got some pressure and caused a bad pass," Babich said. "It's elevated more to where he's gotten to pass rush more than when initially we started because of some of the injury situations."
3)Yeldon ready.Eight rookies are on the Jaguars' roster, with one – running back T.J. Yeldon – likely to start Sunday. While Yeldon is something of an unknown to fans/observers, having played just one half in the preseason and carrying eight times for 10 yards, coaches and teammates like what Yeldon has done in camp and practices. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson noted on Thursday that although Yeldon worked much of training camp in a red, non-contact jersey because of a finger injury, Yeldon took extensive reps during that time. Yeldon, speaking to the media on Thursday for the first time since being listed as the starter this week, said he feels ready for the regular-season opener. "I would like to have had more (carries), just to get used to the speed of the game," Yeldon said. "Unfortunately, I had an injury and they held me out of the last one. I feel like I'm ready, but the more I play the more I'll get comfortable. Hopefully, I'll be all right."
4)A versatility thing.That the Jaguars' running backs will rotate has been discussed ad nauseam in recent weeks. What is equally apparent and important is that the backs – particularly the top trio of Yeldon, Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart – are going to do more than lineup in the backfield and take handoffs from Blake Bortles. All have shown ability as receivers in preseason, with Olson this week discussing that aspect. "You've seen that in all those running backs throughout training camp and the preseason where we've managed to move them out into split-out wide or in the backfield," Olson said. "They're all very comfortable playing wide receiver or a receiving role, either from out of the backfield our in extended sets. So we like all the versatility our running backs bring."
5)Keep an eye on … Tyson Alualu.The veteran defensive lineman long has been a reliable presence, never missing a game in five NFL seasons. He also has been one of the Jaguars' most versatile players. As his sixth season begins, that reliability/versatility is more critical than ever. Alualu, the backup strong-side end last season, will start at the three-technique tackle spot while Marks continues to return from reconstructive knee surgery. With the line rotating, you could see Alualu and strong-side starter Jared Odrick swapping spots along with Michael Bennett and Abry Jones at tackle. Alualu also will work at fullback offensively. "You know exactly what you're getting from him," Bradley said of Alualu. "He can play six-technique, four-technique, three-technique and to have that versatility especially when you're going to rotate the number of players we're going to be is extremely important. He has the trust of everybody around him. That's something that we don't take lightly."
Check out images as the Jaguars hit the practice field for the final time before Sunday's season opener.