JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned from the Jaguars' 13-12 loss to the Detroit Lions Friday in the third game of the 2014 NFL preseason …
1. Chad Henne is the Jaguars' starting quarterback …This is the first thing you need to glean from Friday, and all you needed to do to learn it was listen to Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley after the game. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles has played well in the preseason and he played really well at times Friday. But Bradley left no doubt after the game that Henne will start the regular season.
2. The Jaguars like how fast Henne is playing. They like how he's practicing, how he's seeing plays develop and how it's translating to the field. "For our team, Chad's playing well," Bradley said Friday in Detroit. "We're really excited about him."
3. Blake Bortles is really, really, really progressing.We said he was "really" progressing after Preseason Week 1 and that he was "really, really" progressing after Week 2. What else to do but add another "really" after Week 3? He looks better by the week, and on Friday he was impressive in his first in-game work with the first team. There's more to the NFL than preseason, but so far he has passed every test.
4. Bortles … wow!Yes, we said "wow" about Bortles last week after his performance in Chicago, but there was even more of a wow factor Friday. Bortles entered the game Friday in a two-minute situation, and completed a big-time throw from his own 13. That 28-yard pass to Allen Hurns got the Jaguars out of the shadow of their end zone. He also got the Jaguars out of a tough down-and-distance situation later in that drive with a 30-yard completion to tight end Marcedes Lewis. Bradley said afterward the Jaguars talk about needing to make explosive plays in two-minute situations. Bortles looks for those sorts of plays and so far, he has made them.
5. Bortles isn't perfect.On that same drive, a 79-yarder to close the first half and set up a field goal, Bortles also threw two passes that could easily have been intercepted. Bradley said afterward he likes that Bortles takes risks and likes that he attacks in situations where it's appropriate. Those are the sort of situations that will cost Bortles at times early in his career, but he appears to have a natural ability to look downfield and not settle for the safe throw. That's big.
6. The center position still isn't settled.Veteran Jacques McClendon practiced with the first team all week and started on Friday. As for Mike Brewster, the starting center in the first two preseason games, he didn't work at the position in the first half Friday and opened the second half at right guard. Rookie Luke Bowanko replaced McClendon late in the first half, so the ongoing center question may be coming down to McClendon or Bowanko.
7. The whole offensive line still isn't settled.It takes time for a new group of offensive linemen to get the cohesion and continuity needed. It was apparent Friday the line is still seeking those things. Henne wasn't perfect early, but he was under way too much pressure, too.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are barely bested by the Detroit Lions in the 3rd game of the 2014 preseason.
8. Allen Hurns is making this roster.OK, we realistically have been learning this all through training camp, but seven receptions for 113 yards? A touchdown reception in the third quarter? It doesn't matter the quarterback and it doesn't matter the circumstance: Hurns makes plays. He has been consistent and reliable. As a result, he not only has played his way into a roster spot, he's going to be hard to keep off the field.
9. The run defense isn't perfect …That was apparent Friday, and players weren't thrilled with that. After two very good weeks against the run, the Lions rushed for 178 yards. Eighty-six of those yards came on a first-quarter touchdown run by Reggie Bush, but there were some other runs the Jaguars' defenders didn't like, either. The pieces are in place for a very good run defense, and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said afterward no question progress has been made since last season. But Marks and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny each also said the run defense has to be better than it was Friday.
10. Andre Branch has hands.And as it turns out, the third-year veteran defensive end has really good hands. Branch's interception off Matthew Stafford early in the game probably wasn't a precursor of a multi-interception season. He won't drop in coverage that much, but the play absolutely spoke to Branch's athleticism.
11. Toby Gerhart runs hard.The offensive line didn't play perfectly, but before this team will emerge as good pass-blocking team it may need to establish itself as a good run-blocking team. They did that at times Friday, with Gerhart running hard behind a line that was starting to get some push in spots. That won't happen overnight, but there were some good early steps Friday.
12. Dekoda Watson was signed for a reason.The outside linebacker wasn't the most high-profile of free agent signings, but the Jaguars liked him enough to design their Otto linebacker position around his skills. He showed a glimpse of why Friday, registering a sack on a two-point conversion and showing athletic ability and strength in limited time.
13. There's a ways to go.The Jaguars are still looking for their first double-digit points game, and they still have work to do on the offensive line and on defense. And that's to be expected. They didn't enter this preseason as a finished product and didn't expect to obtain a finished product this preseason, either. There are a lot of new faces in new places on this team. Development in that situation doesn't come immediately.
14. There are good signs out of preseason.There will be angst after this game among observers. The running yards allowed. The sacks allowed. And those things must get fixed. But we are learning fast that when Bortles plays – whenever that may be – he apparently has a chance to be very, very good. That overrides just about everything else, and has the long-term looking good.