Here's what we learned from the Jaguars' 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome Friday:
1) Justin Blackmon is NFL ready.Yes, it's just one preseason game, and yes, there will be highs and lows this season. But Blackmon showed NFL hands and an NFL ability to get open. It's just a start, but for a guy who missed the first 10 days of training camp, the start was very good.
2) Gabbert has improved.Anyone watching camp and the first preseason game knew already. Let the national media types pick apart the rough edges. Look through those rough edges, and it's just stubbornness to say he hasn't improved. He is 10-of-14 on third downs in two games, but it's more than statistics with Gabbert. He passes the eye test.
3) Gabbert will stand tall.Time and again Friday, Gabbert stood in the pocket and threw despite a rush. At times, he threw while getting hit. To say otherwise is to ignore the facts. That alone doesn't mean he's Pro Bowl bound, but he took enough criticism for this last season that it's time to acknowledge the truth.
4) This offense has a chance to be good.That may not be earthshattering stuff in many NFL cities, but the Jaguars ranked 32nd in total offense last year. We were used to seeing a team that had trouble scoring a touchdown in any game. It's hard to know what the Jaguars' offense will be this season, but it won't be that.
5) The running game is ahead of last season.Remember? Early last preseason? A storyline around the Jaguars actually was the trouble the team had running the ball. Go back and look it up. This not a commentary on the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew, but right now, this offensive line is run-blocking better than it did last preseason, and the running game is very, very effective as a result.
6) Rashad Jennings will be fine.Again, no commentary on Jones-Drew, but if Rashad Jennings is healthy, the Jaguars will have a very potent running game.
7) Anger will be a factor.Four punts for Bryan Anger. A 48.8-yard average. On Friday, even his "OK" punts were very, very OK. There will be those who continue to criticize the selection. Some people will never accept a punter in the third round. That's fine. The kid's a weapon.
8) Andre Branch. The Jaguars like him. On Friday, he continued to show why, registering a half a sack and playing the run well. He also had a stop in pass defense that stopped the Saints short of a first down. If he, Blackmon and Anger are as good as they look early, this draft could be memorable.
9) Jordan Palmer is making a push.Palmer for a second consecutive week led the Jaguars to a come-from-behind victory. You must be very, very cautious reading too much into the fourth quarter of preseason games, but Palmer has moved the team late two consecutive weeks. Chad Henne may be playing earlier – and therefore playing against better defenses – but he has struggled each of the last two weeks.
10) Mike Mularkey is going to coach aggressively.That's what going for it on fourth down in the first half was about. That's what the onside kick at the start of the second half was about. Afterward, Mularkey said there was a simple reason for the onside kick – that the Jaguars wanted the ball. He has spent the offseason setting a tone and letting fans and players know what he's about. He did it again on Friday night.
11) Jeremy Mincey was a key offseason move.We knew this, but if you wondered why the Jaguars reinvested in Mincey in the offseason, Friday was another example. The Saints are a tough team to pass rush against because of their short drops and quick passes. Mincey still managed a sack and a half.
12) The arrow is up.Looking back on this what we learned, it's overwhelmingly positive. And you know what? That's OK. After two preseason games, we do know that. I have no idea what this team's record will be, but I do know it's going to be competitive, and I do know a base is being built for a solid future. That's something that not a lot of people were saying a month ago.