JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned about the Jaguars during this week's practices leading to – and Thursday's Week 3 preseason game against – the Carolina Panthers
1. Uncertainty remains at quarterback …No one around the Jaguars wants this to be true – least of all Head Coach Doug Marrone. But Marrone opened the quarterback competition last week after a preseason loss to Tampa Bay and opted against naming a starter between Chad Henne and Blake Bortles after Thursday's loss to Carolina. He opted against this for the very legitimate reason that he needs more time to make the decision.
2. … and there's no hard timeline for a decision.Said Marrone Thursday: "Obviously, you'd like to make the decision quick, but you want to make sure you make the right decision. That's the most important thing."
3. There's uncertainty for a reason.Bottom line: There's not a huge difference between Henne and Bortles. Neither seized the job Thursday. Henne threw a couple of accurate deep balls, but the offense was mostly stagnant when he played in the first half. Bortles had some impressive runs and throws in the second half, but he also had a third-quarter interception – and he was playing against second- and third-teamers.
4. Bortles isn't out of this yet.It was easy to assume last week that Henne would be the Jaguars' Week 1 starter. It became really easy to assume that when Marrone started Henne against Carolina. But Marrone played Bortles five series with the offensive line starters in the second half Thursday, giving Bortles every chance to win the job. Also, there's just not a huge difference between Bortles and Henne, making Marrone's decision legitimately difficult.
5. Keelan Cole has a real good chance to make the roster …We've been learning this about the undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver since early in training camp, but it remains evident. Cole worked with the first unit a lot in a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay and also returned punts in that game. He ran with the first team early on Thursday with wide receiver Marqise Lee still out with an ankle injury. Cole dropped a very catchable pass for a second consecutive week, but it still feels like the Jaguars are trying to figure his role rather than trying to figure whether or not he has a roster spot.
6. … and Shane Wynn just might, too.It continues to be easy to dismiss Wynn's roster chances because of his size (5-feet-6, 168 pounds). The second-year wide receiver continues to produce at a level that makes it appear unwise to continue dismissing.
7. Left guard is still a real competition.Credit Marrone with this: when he says a job is open, he means it. He said shortly after the Tampa Bay loss that left guard was going to rotate in practice. Not only did Luke Bowanko get practice reps there this past week, he started against the Panthers. That doesn't mean Bowanko has the job over Patrick Omameh, who started the first two preseason games, but it means the competition is real. The two rotated into the fourth quarter Thursday.
8. Lee is confident about Week 1 …The fourth-year wide receiver appeared likely lost for the season when he sustained an ankle injury on August 13. By early this week, Lee was out of his walking boot and walking without a limp. Lee, who was having a standout training camp, said last weekend he expects to play Week 1 against Houston. All signs point to him doing so.
9. … and so is Leonard Fournette. The No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Fournette hasn't practiced or played since shortly after the Jaguars' preseason opener against New England. Fournette said last weekend the foot injury that has kept him out isn't serious and that he expects to play against Houston Week 1. It's not ideal having players such as Fournette and Lee out of practice, but most important is having the offense's two most explosive players healthy for Week 1.
10. Corey Grant is a factor. Grant is in his third season with the Jaguars and he annually begins training camp as a "bubble player." It may be time for that to stop. Including the regular-season finale at Indianapolis last season, he has runs of 50-plus yards in three of the last four games. His speed is a real weapon that will be on the roster.
11. Slow starts are a trend for the defense.The Jaguars' first-team defense allowed three long drives to Tampa Bay a week ago; on Thursday, the defense allowed a way-too-easy drive on Panthers starting quarterback Cam Newton's lone possession with. Defenders to a man talked about how they responded to the early drive, but starting faster is a priority for this defense.
12. The offensive line struggles are a trend, too.Jaguars running backs rushed for 30 yards on 17 carries against Tampa Bay in Preseason Week 2. Running back Corey Grant had a 51-yard run on a fake punt Thursday, but Jaguars running backs rushed for 56 yards on 22 other carries. This team wants to run and control the line of scrimmage. It must be better as a run-blocking unit.