JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the Jaguars entering the team's Week 1 matchup against the Green Bay Packers at EverBank Field Sunday
It's difficult to quantify, exactly, but it's oh-so-important for this offense.
We're talking about tempo. If you watched the Jaguars' offense during the preseason, you know how it looked when the tempo was right – and how it looked when it was off.
Quarterback Blake Bortles is the critical piece to the offense. When offensive coordinator Greg Olson this week discussed Bortles' growth since last season, he emphasized details such as getting the offense in and out of the huddle and line-of-scrimmage mechanics such as calling checks in the running and passing game.
That's knowledge-based stuff. As Bortles' knowledge has grown so, too, has the ability for the Jaguars to run their offense at the desired pace.
"We believe that should be a strength of ours, just based on the continuity within the group," Olson said this week as the Jaguars prepared to play the Packers at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
Bortles' grasp of the offense has improved steadily since Olson's January 2015 hiring – and that grasp as expected is now far beyond where it was entering last season.
"You can certainly see he's definitely more comfortable," Olson said.
The same is true of many offensive players, most of whom now have two offseasons and an entire regular season working in Olson's scheme. Olson said you could see the benefits of that time together during the preseason when the offense moved quickly, getting out of the huddle quickly, getting into the right plays more often.
"When we mention tempo, it's not always 'Get to the ball and run a play,''' wide receiver Allen Hurns said. "Sometimes it's, 'Get to the ball, run some checks and see what the defense is going to do.' We can use that to our advantage. It's our second year in the offense, so everyone's a lot more comfortable and confident in what we want to do. It's taking the next step."
Offenses can dictate tempo by using the no-huddle hurry-up offense, and the Jaguars indeed have had offensive success with that approach. Tempo also can be dictated from the huddle, and the Jaguars were able to do that at times last season. They also showed it early in Preseasons Week 1 and 2, when an effective running game and positive down-and-distance situations combined with the offense's efficiency between plays to allow the Jaguars to control tempo.
"To be able to get to the line of scrimmage and dictate the tempo against defenses – I think that's an important part of the progress we've made," Olson said. "I think our players would agree with that. They feel better about it when they're going: 'Let's go. Let's get the plays. Let's get in and out of the huddle. Let's dictate the tempo to the defense.'
"I think that's been positive, and a lot of that's dictated by the quarterback and his ability to get plays called and get them up the line of scrimmage."
The Jaguars enter the 2016 regular-season opener nearly completely healthy. Only defensive end Jared Odrick (concussion protocol) and running back Chris Ivory (calf) are listed on the injury report. Both are listed as questionable and are expected to play Sunday.
A TOUGH READ
The Packers' defense is talented at all three levels, but Hurns said a huge factor in the effectiveness of the Green Bay secondary is the ability of safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to disguise before the snap. "Their safeties do a very good job disguising looks," Hurns said. "Sometimes, you think it's going to be one [safety] high and they go two high, so they do a very good job with their scheme. You never know what you're going to get. They switch things up a lot." Hurns said while some safety duos might have one veteran player with the ability to hide a look until the snap, "both of them do a great job not giving it away until the last minute."
RUN TO WIN
A common theme entering Sunday's game: both teams want to establish the run. The Jaguars' most impressive moments of the preseason came when they ran well early against Tampa Bay and the New York Jets, and Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this week the area remains an emphasis for Green Bay even after the team ranked 12th in the NFL in rushing last season. "We are built to stop the run," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. "With [running back Eddie] Lacy, you better have a tackling plan. He is a big man. As a matter of a fact, I think he is bigger than some of the defensive ends we are going to have playing. He is physical, he is a down-hill type of guy and their running scheme matches his style." …
"It feels good. I don't sense any anxiety. We're ready to go out there and do a job. By Sunday, I feel like we'll be ready."
---Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis on team mindset entering the regular-season opener