ATLANTA – Ah, the joys of Preseason Week 4 …
Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say: What joys? What pleasures could be derived from Jaguars-Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Thursday night, a lightly attended game featuring a slew of pre-game scratches – and an equal slew of casual uniformed observers on either sideline?
Glad you asked.
Because there indeed were Jaguars-related joys Thursday in the team's 17-15 loss to the Atlanta Falcons – and we witnessed them even as we stayed dutifully glued to our weather apps watching the goings-on back home.
They were real, NFL football-related joys – a few of which actually might have taught us something about this Jaguars team as the final notes of this 2016 preseason were dutifully if not artistically played in front of a lot of understandably empty seats in downtown Atlanta.
One obvious pleasure: Myles Jack.
Images from the Jaguars fourth preseason game against the Falcons.
Yes, if there was an on-field Jaguars Must Watch Thursday it was Jack, the rookie linebacker who was the most prominent player to play for the Jaguars Thursday. And make no mistake: it indeed was a pleasure to watch Jack, and a pleasure to envision what this talent may become.
Jack started at weak-side linebacker Thursday. This was after he had spent training camp working at middle linebacker. The idea throughout camp and the first couple of weeks of the preseason was to put Jack in the best position to learn the defense. The idea now is to figure the best way to get Jack – who would have been a Top 10 selection in the draft if not for long-term concerns about a knee issue – on the field to utilize his talent.
The thought is that may be at weakside linebacker.
Jack played a lot there Thursday, and it appears he may play a lot there early in the season. The Jaguars don't want middle linebacker Paul Posluszny off the field and they're going to want Jack on it.
Could that mean a reduced role for weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith, a speedy talented playmaker who coaches have encouraged to reduce mistakes? Stay tuned.
As for Jack on Thursday, he stood out. Three tackles on the Falcons' first series. Another tackle on the first play of the next series. There doubtless will be areas he can improve, but it seems just as doubtless that he will be on the field in key role. A lot. Soon.
Another pleasure: watching warmups. Seeing Blake Bortles, Chad Henne and the fellas tossing and catching pre-game passes in shorts and caps was fun in a something-to-pass-the-time-before-kickoff kind of way. The fellas seemed to enjoy themselves – and hey, a free trip to Atlanta is a free trip to Atlanta.
One more pleasure: the early play of Brandon Allen, the third-team rookie who started at quarterback with Bortles and Henne held out for precautionary reasons. Henne will be the Jaguars' backup this season, but Allen looks like he could have that role in the future. At the very least it looks like he has a roster spot for 2016.
One thing that wasn't a pleasure and never is in Preseason Week 4 – the knowledge that some of the players playing as the clock approached 0:00 were wearing a Jaguars uniform for the last time. The cut down to 53 must come by Saturday at 4 p.m., and most of the players to be released were playing Thursday in the fourth quarter. For some, those plays will be their last in a sport they have played most of their lives. Watching that while knowing that is never a pleasure.
But aside from that, there were joys Thursday – and perhaps the biggest was that as the clock hit 0:00, preseason officially ended. So, too, did months of discussion and speculation. The preliminaries are indeed done.
We know now Kelvin Beachum will start at left tackle, and Luke Joeckel will start at left guard. We know Joeckel needs to play better at guard than he did last week against Cincinnati, and we know the team believes that will happen.
We know Bortles looks better than last preseason, and we know he looks like a player ready to make some necessary Year 3 improvements. We know that Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns look like Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and we know that's a good thing.
We don't know how the defense is going to play with a ton of new faces in new places, and we know the offensive and defensive lines need to show they are the Preseason Week 1 and 2 versions of themselves a lot more than the Week 3 version.
We know this team feels better than the past several versions, but we won't start learning how much better for a week or so. That's what we absolutely know – that we're going to learn real answers about this team in 10 days. That's when the regular season begins at last.
And after an offseason of speculation and buildup, that really will be a pleasure.