JACKSONVILLE – It ain't a game, but it's the next best thing.
OK, maybe preseason games are actually "the next best thing" to real NFL games, but you get the idea:
The Jaguars' 2016 Mock Game Friday night may not be real pad-popping NFL football, but it's kinda, sorta close. Whatever it is, it should be fun.
That's not just because it's free and open to the public with all sorts of festivities before and after. It's also because it's a chance to see the '16 Jaguars in something close to real action, and if the first week and a half of training camp is any indication, there's quite a bit to see on and off field.
A ton of new players on defense. A ton of familiar faces on offense who look improved.
Club seats. Games for the kids.
And, of course, fireworks – because who doesn't love a good batch of fireworks?
Whatever you're looking for, doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the "game" scheduled to start around 7. Don't look for a lot of players hitting the ground, and don't look for a lot of full-on contact, but you should get a better idea about what the '16 Jaguars might be all about.
Here's a look at what to watch if you're attending:
1.Dante Fowler Jr.The No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, Fowler has shown why thus far in camp. The Leo defensive end has shown uncommon athleticism, agility, quickness and strength – all this after missing his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Watch Fowler's explosiveness and power. It's special.
2.Offensive efficiency.A controlled mock game won't be anything close to a final gauge on this, but you want to see the offense – particularly quarterback Blake Bortles – making easier things look easier than they did last season. Bortles has looked better on intermediate routes, short routes and decision-making. Those are things you can see at least a bit in a scrimmage.
3.Allen Robinson.The team's lone Pro Bowl selection last season, he has looked the part of a young player further coming into his own. He's running better routes, he's more confident and he's even stronger to the ball. He has the look of a true No. 1 wide receiver.
*4.Robinson versus cornerback Prince Amukamara. *This has emerged as a matchup to watch in camp, with the pair having a memorable one-on-one matchup Wednesday when Robinson beat Amukamara for a touchdown on a double move. Amukamara has shown a knack for making plays in camp and his presence is going to help the secondary.
5.Speed, speed, speed …The difference in speed on this defense is dramatic and noticeable. You won't have to watch the scrimmage long – or even all that closely – to see it. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Fowler, free safety Tashaun Gipson, linebacker Myles Jack, Leo end Yannick Ngakoue. All are new. All play fast. Really, really fast.
6.The continuing development of Jack.The rookie linebacker has worked at middle backer with the second team much of camp, but he worked with the ones Wednesday when starter Paul Posluszny had a scheduled day off. Jack is still learning the defense, but appears to be playing faster and faster.
Take a look at some of the best images from Thursday's practice.
7.The continued development of Ramsey.The rookie corner was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft – and he has shown why thus far in camp. He has unusual length, physicality and quickness for a corner and at this point it would be a surprise if he's not starting on the outside early in the season and moving inside to play nickel in passing situations. Watch his suddenness and physicality. It's hard to miss.
8.Julius Thomas … a chemistry thing.Much was made throughout the offseason about the veteran tight end continuing to get in sync with Bortles. The two have shown some signs of that thus far in camp. A scrimmage is the perfect time to see more.
9.Chris Ivory.The Jaguars signed the veteran running back with the idea that he would bring physicality to the running game. He has been strong in camp. A scrimmage won't necessarily be the best place for physical running, but you could see signs of how his lower-the-shoulder style will help the running game.
10.The clubs.This isn't an on-field thing, but don't miss seeing the renovations to EverBank Field. The US Assure Clubs are very much as advertised – a state-of-the-art, stadium-altering addition as EverBank continues to transform into a modern, state-of-the-art stadium before our eyes.