View from the O-Zone: Playing it safe, looking for depth

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BALTIMORE, Md. – A few names were familiar. Most weren’t.

It was time to play it very, very safe.

That’s often the nature of NFL preseason openers these days, and it certainly was how the Jaguars approached a 29-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Field Thursday night. It was a game that featured far more Jaguars backups than starters – and a game that for Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone marked a major change in his preseason philosophy.

But if Marrone’s hope was to keep players healthy Thursday, he made clear he didn’t want that to see a loss so one-sided.

“We go out there to win games with the players we have on the field,” Marrone said. “That’s obviously important to us.”

What to take away from Thursday? How about this?

It’s not a cause for panic, but the coach does have some concerns.

Marrone acknowledged quickly after the game that sitting 30 players was a major shift in philosophy. He acknowledged, too, that the shift came largely because of a 2018 season that was lost to a bizarre number of preseason and regular-season injuries.

He talked Thursday’s game of losing wide receiver Marqise Lee to a preseason knee injury last season, and of losing wide receiver Allen Robinson to a Week 1 injury in 2017. Marrone clearly this training camp has been looking to avoid such position-altering losses, and he spoke that way Thursday.

As revealing after Thursday’s loss was what Marrone said about depth. He said he perhaps misjudged the team’s depth last preseason, something that was revealed once injuries hit.

He said he very much wants to avoid that same fate this season.

“We have to see who we have,” Marrone said. “We have to see what the depth is. Right now, it’s not good. We have to develop those guys.”

Still, considering Thursday’s scaled-back approach, it was difficult to know exactly what we learned about the 2019 Jaguars.

While undoubtedly there will be observers panicking over a paltry offensive output, and there will be emphasis on Marrone’s concern over depth, the reality is not much of what happened Thursday in Baltimore can be evaluated from a big-picture standpoint.

The Jaguars started five projected starters Thursday: tight ends James O’Shaughnessy and Geoff Swaim, guard A.J. Cann, tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. They played few core players, and aside from edge defender Josh Allen and Swaim, they essentially put no front-line players at risk.

That’s a sound plan for getting to the regular season healthy, which Marrone has made clear throughout 2019 Training Camp is Priority No. 1.

What it’s not a sound plan for is looking impressive in the preseason opener, and the Jaguars most certainly were not impressive Thursday.

What essentially was the second-team offense managed just two first-quarter first downs and an offense led throughout the half by backup quarterback Gardner Minshew managed just five first downs and 83 yards. Minshew finished the half completing seven of 14 passes for 46 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns.

“Gardner was hit a lot,” Marrone said. “We didn’t do a lot of things up front. That’s a concern. It’s tough. You’ve got three young quarterbacks [including reserves Tanner Lee and Alex McGough]. That relies on the receivers, the line and everything has to go into the play, but again: it’s a concern.

“We’re going to work hard. We’re going to keep playing those guys until someone one comes to the top. It’s not like you can go out and get some players. We’ve got to develop them. They’ve got to play better, and they’ve got to make less mistakes.

“We’ve got to figure out who’s going to be on this team. They’ve got to go out there and they have to compete at a high level, and they have to be able to compete and win when the lights come on.”

One positive for Minshew:

He appeared resilient. He followed big hits and errant throws with completions multiple times. The bottom line in Minshew after one appearance? While there’s little question the Jaguars want him to be the backup to starter Nick Foles – and while he’s clearly the best option currently on the roster for that role – we simply couldn’t get a read Thursday if he’s ready or not.

Perhaps work with the starters – or at least the starting line – could provide a better read.

And that’s really the theme to this preseason opener, isn’t it?

While it’s tempting to over-evaluate a game in which the Jaguars were playing real playing football for the first time in more than seven months, doing so is impossible when it’s second-team versus first team. At the same time, Marrone’s concern about depth shouldn’t be ignored.

So, no: don’t panic over this one.

But rest assured that Marrone’s not going to make the mistake he believes he made last season.

The Jaguars opened the 2019 preseason by visiting the Baltimore Ravens.

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