JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five Wednesday takeaways as the Jaguars prepare to play the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday …
1)Prepping for Cam.We begin Wednesday takeaways with the opponent, which this week means a look at Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Preparing for Carolina means preparing for not only Newton's athleticism and arm strength, but his size. "People say he likes to run, but I say he only runs when he has to," Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said, adding, "In his own right, he's just a different type of quarterback in the NFL. You don't see too many quarterbacks (like Newton) … (Steelers quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger, but he's not as athletic as Cam. He's just a quarterback you have to watch for in all situation." Said Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, "What's unique this game is Cam Newton. You have to take a look at because he is a quarterback that will pull it and run, and he's a big body-type quarterback that you better have a plan for him."
2)Ready for the role.When T.J. Yeldon was listed as the starting running back on the Jaguars' unofficial depth chart this week, some fans and observers raised eyebrows. Yeldon, after all, played in just of one four preseason games because of a finger injury and rushed for 10 yards on eight carries in Preseason Week 3 against the Lions. But the Jaguars like Yeldon's body of work in training camp and the offseason, and support for him is strong. "He's been impressive – even in the walkthrough we just went through," quarterback Blake Bortles said Wednesday. "They threw a couple of blitzes at him and he was in the right spot picking the right guys up. He's been fun to watch. I'm excited to see what he can do with multiple carries, catches and protections and stuff like that." While Yeldon will start, look for the Jaguars also to play Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart extensively at running back. "He's taken a lot of the reps as we've gone through training camp," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of Yeldon. "We feel comfortable with him."
*3)Better than the alternative. *Ideally, Sen'Derrick Marks would have practiced Wednesday and would be preparing to play in the regular-season opener. As an alternative, Marks said being on the active roster isn't bad. Marks, who spent the offseason rehabilitating after reconstructive knee surgery in mid-January, was moved to the active roster from the physically unable to perform list Saturday. Had he remained on PUP, he would have been unable to play in the first six games of the season. "That was good," Marks said. "It was something I was pressing for, not to be out for six weeks." Marks had set a goal of returning for the regular-season opener. That won't happen, but General Manager David Caldwell said Saturday Marks could return before Week 6. "My thing is to keep working it and rely on whatever they say," Marks said. "Whatever they see and whatever they as trainers want to do, I'm going to continue to progress and go with whatever they say."
Check out images from Jaguars practice as they prepare to open the 2015 season against the Carolina Panthers.
4)Confidence in the room.Bortles, speaking before practice, said he's confident in a wide receiver corps that enters the first week with injury concerns. Projected starters Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson are healthy, as is third receiver/punt returner Rashad Greene. But second-year veteran Marqise Lee – who did not practice Wednesday and who missed all but three days of practice with a hamstring injury – is considered 50-50 for Sunday and fifth-receiver Bryan Walters missed practice Monday and Wednesday with a hamstring injury. "I think it's a really good room," Bortles said. "Guys have stepped up in that room. It's obviously a young room and a talented room, but those guys have been good during practice and they've been able to pick up for Marqise being out and Bryan's out right now. But I have trust in every single guy in that room and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do." Bradley after practice Wednesday said he expects Walters to play Sunday.
5)Smarts a key.The Jaguars' first-team offense scored on 8-of-11 preseason possessions. One reason was the play of Bortles and another was the improvement of the offensive line. But another is the unit as a whole seemed comfortable only a few months into the installation of Olson's scheme. Olson, in his first season as the coordinator, said during the offseason program he was impressed with how quickly the players were learning the scheme. He reiterated that stance on Wednesday. "I said it then and I still believe it: it's one of the most intelligent groups that I've been around at every position," he said. "From tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers, offensive line – it's an extremely intelligent group. That makes it easy to communicate from coach to player, player to player, player to coach."