JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned about the Jaguars in the 2015 preseason, which ended this past Thursday when they beat the Washington Redskins in the preseason finale …
1. The team is better – maybe dramatically so.With 33 players inactive Thursday, there wasn't too much to learn about the front-line players in the preseason finale in Landover, Maryland. But if you look at the entire preseason body of work, there's little question the team improved.
2. Blake Bortles has made strides.No. 1 and No. 2 very much go together, so No. 2 is the storyline that's impossible to ignore or overemphasize. The second-year quarterback did extensive offseason work on mechanics, fundamentals, footwork, etc., and the results have been evident. He's a different player than he was last season. How different? How much better? Stay tuned.
3. The first-team offensive line is set …The Jaguars entered the preseason wanting to solidify the offensive line. Consider it solidified with left tackle Luke Joeckel, left guard Zane Beadles, center Stefen Wisniewski, right guard Brandon Linder and right tackle Jermey Parnell the starters. Wisniewski earned the job in a tight battle with Luke Bowanko and Beadles earned it over rookie A.J. Cann in a battle that never really materialized.
4. … and also appears improved.The progression of the offensive line isn't quite as big a story as Bortles' improvement, but it isn't far behind. The line last season was a young group that helped the offense allow a franchise-record 71 sacks. As a result, very little worked in the passing game or the running game. This preseason, a lot more worked. You also could see Bortles trusting his protection and gaining confidence as a result. You can't overestimate the importance of that.
5. Rashad Greene is returning punts.The rookie from Florida State worked in the first half returning punts in Preseason Weeks 2 and 3. He also progressed as a receiver late in the preseason and training camp and should be on the field a lot early in the season.
6. The pass rush is a concern.Let's keep this in perspective. While the front-line defensive line didn't create pressure in the preseason, most of this group was part of the line that was very productive last regular season. That's no guarantee of regular-season success, but it provides hope this unit can be productive.
7. Stopping the run is key.That's always true in the NFL, but it's really true for this team early. End Jared Odrick and Otto linebacker Dan Skuta are supposed to help the run defense, and with the team beat up on the defensive line, those two players will be key. This team will need to be in favorable down-and-distance situations to rush the passer effectively.
8. Corey Grant can run.We sort of knew this before, but he sure showed it in the preseason finale. The rookie running back covered 40 yards as fast as anyone around the Jaguars has in a while. That resulted in a second-quarter touchdown. The Jaguars want to get this guy on the field.
*9. Sen'Derrick Marks is a ways away … *The veteran defensive tackle and teams sacks leader won't start the season on the physically unable to perform list but he won't be available for the regular-season opener, either. Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said Saturday he expects Marks to begin doing individual work in the week leading to Week 2 and to return sometime before Week 6. Stay tuned.
*10. … and so is Andre Branch. *Caldwell also said Saturday he expects Branch to return before Week 6. He mentioned Week 4 as a possibility, but the veteran defensive end will be evaluated moving forward.
11. Tight end Julius Thomas will miss at least the first two games of the regular season …and probably at least one more. Caldwell said Saturday a timeframe will be determined for the Jaguars' top offseason free acquisition when he sees a hand specialist in two weeks. Stay tuned here, too.
12. Marqise Lee is 50-50, but safety Johnathan Cyprien will play.Not all of the Jaguars' injuries are long-term. Caldwell said Cyprien – the Jaguars' strong safety – will play with a protective device around the finger area he injured in the preseason opener. Lee, a second-year wide receiver who has been out since early training camp with a hamstring injury, likely will run full speed early in the week. Caldwell said if he misses the opener it will be precautionary so he can work full in Week 2.
13. The defensive line will rotate early. A lot.With Marks out early, look for Tyson Alualu to play a lot at Marks' three-technique spot. He'll also back up Odrick at strong-side defensive end, while Odrick also will play some three-technique. Abry Jones and Michael Bennett will rotate in at the three-technique spot, too. Meanwhile, with Branch out, Chris Smith will play first and second downs at the Leo end spot with Chris Clemons and Ryan Davis rotating in and playing in the lightning package. Don't worry about keeping track of it all; just know a lot of guys will be playing in a lot of places.
14. The running backs could rotate, too.Look for rookie T.J. Yeldon to start the opener, but backup Denard Robinson has earned a major role in the offense. Tony Gerhart has earned a role as a third-down and pass-receiving back, too. All three backs are going to play a lot, and do more than just line up behind the quarterback.
15. The Jaguars have a new kicker.Jason Myers, little-known and strong-legged, was impressive enough in training camp and preseason that the Jaguars felt comfortable trading longtime kicker Josh Scobee to the Steelers for a sixth-round draft selection. It made for an emotional week, but the Jaguars believe Myers can be very good at the position for a long, long time.
16. This team is better.We've said it often, and the Jaguars believe it. Now, it's time to show it.