While week one of the NFL preseason is exciting for football fans everywhere and kicks off games on the field for the first time since the Super Bowl, for most teams it is nothing more than an opportunity to get the starters' feet wet and get their first look at what the young players on their rosters can do in live action.
However, in Jacksonville where there is a new GM and a new head coach, with an owner who is relativity new, it is the start of a new era. The Jaguars fans are longing for losing seasons to be a thing of the past, with hopes of championships in the future and star players they can call their own.
Because of this, the first preseason game against the Miami Dolphins meant so much more than the usual preseason opener. It was the fans' first chance to see what GM Dave Caldwell's free agents and draft class was all about, what this team's personality would be under Head Coach Gus Bradley, and possibly most important – is Blaine Gabbert the franchise QB he was drafted to be?
While all of these are great and important questions that will determine whether or not the fans get what they are longing for, we still need to be careful not to jump to any conclusions after the 27-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
It would be easy to say after watching the Jaguars' first preseason performance that it is just more of the same, something I have heard from fans since Friday night's game. It was another loss and another game in which it looked like Gabbert and the first-team offense struggled. Fans are ready to pronounce that Blaine can't get it done, the offense can't score, the defense gave up too many points and the end of the world is right around the corner. This might seem apparent by just looking on the surface, but I saw so much more, things that should give fans hope, signs that more wins on the field are in this team's future.
Yes, Blaine and the first-team offense did not look great against the starters of the Dolphins, and the offense did struggle to move the ball, but you have to remember they were without arguably their best three offensive players in Maurice Jones-Drew, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon.
Plus, it was the first game with Jedd Fisch as offensive coordinator and the plan was to be very vanilla and simple. Yes, the defense gave up 27 points, but 17 of those were off turnovers that put the defense in very difficult positions. The majority of the time they got the Dolphins off the field, holding them to under 300 yards, and forced several three-and-outs.
Yes, it was another loss that looked ugly, but remember, while you always want to win, the preseason record means very little. You have to look beyond the final score, and see that there were plenty of examples in the game that all Jaguars fans should be excited about.
You can't forget while you watch a preseason NFL game, especially involving a team like the Jaguars, that they are in a rebuilding stage and winning or losing is often secondary. What you want to see is that the pieces that have been added in the offseason are going to help you move as a franchise in the right direction. And after watching the game Friday night against the Dolphins, I would say this is the case for the Jaguars.
The majority of new players that Dave Caldwell brought in played well, which is critical due to the fact that the roster he inherited was not very deep.
All of the drafted rookies that played in the game – Johnathan Cyprien and Jeremy Harris didn't play due to injury – performed well. Right tackle Luke Joeckel had two rough plays early, but then performed very well against a Pro Bowl defensive end in Cameron Wake. Luke will solidify the offensive line and showed this in his first game.
Cornerback Dwayne Gratz played the entire first half, the majority of the time against the high-priced free agent Mike Wallace, and he not only held his own but played well. The rookie wide receiver Ace Sanders showed that he will add the speed and big play ability that this team so desperately lacked last year.
The college quarterback turned offensive weapon, Denard Robinson, proved that he will be a nice compliment to Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield, as well add some juice to the kick return this year.
Of the veteran free agents that Dave Caldwell brought in, I thought three stood out nicely. Defensive Tackle Sen'Derrick Marks consistently beat one-on-one blocking, getting one sack and multiple pressures on the Dolphins quarterback. Nose guard Roy Miller showed that it will be difficult to move him in the middle of the line of scrimmage and he will make the Jaguars' run defense much stingier. Cornerback Alan Ball, who has had a nice training camp, will be a strong compliment to rookie Dwayne Gratz and give the Jaguars two corners that can play good man-to-man coverage.
Overall, while there are still major questions to be answered at the quarterback position and losing any game never feels good, there are plenty of things to build on after preseason game one. This team showed it will be faster with the players Caldwell has brought in, be more aggressive on defense with the philosophy of Head Coach Gus Bradley, and definitely more fun to watch with the added playmakers on the roster.
Better days are in store for the Jaguars and for their fans.