JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the final week of the Jaguars' 2016 preseason …
1.The cuts to 53 really will be tough.Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell indicated Thursday night that this year's moves to the league-mandated 53-player roster will be the toughest of his four-year tenure. It's easy to see why. This is a more talented team than recent seasons and it's clearly deeper. Decisions in the secondary, at running back, on the defensive line, at linebacker … all will be difficult. Good players will be released at all of those positions.
2.Myles Jack is going to be good …Jaguars rookie linebacker Myles Jack was the dominant pre-game storyline, and if there's a such thing as Preseason Week 4 Hype, he more than lived up to it. Jack made tackles on the Falcons' first four plays Thursday and he showed real quickness, speed and pursuit to the ball. Most observers believed Jack would have been a Top 5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft if not for long-term concern over a knee issue. It's not hard to see why those observers believed that.
3. … and soon.Jack played the weak side Thursday after working there throughout the week. That came after he spent training camp and preseason playing the middle to learn the defense. It's apparent the Jaguars' coaches want Jack on the field. Is that at weak-side linebacker? We'll see.
4.The Jaguars might be deeper than anticipated at running back.Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon looked good during preseason's first three weeks, but the potential running-back depth showed Thursday. Corey Grant yet again showed tantalizing breakaway speed, and we already knew Denard Robinson was fast. Joe Banyard's late preseason productivity makes him intriguing – and makes him a more difficult player to release than originally thought.
5.The wide receivers are good.OK, we didn't learn this Thursday, but it's still worth mentioning. If third-year veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson wasn't the team's preseason Most Valuable Player they should stop giving out the award. (Wait … what?)
6.Blake Bortles is improved, too.OK, we didn't learn this in Preseason Week 4, either. Learning opportunities were somewhat limited Thursday with all starters out to avoid injuries. But the overall takeaway from the preseason is that Jaguars starting quarterback Blake Bortles has improved. He still has strides to make, but those strides appear attainable – and his decision-making and pocket awareness overall appeared improved.
Images from the Jaguars fourth preseason game against the Falcons.
7.Brandon Allen has talent.Brandon Allen, the Jaguars' sixth-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, got his first NFL start of any kind Thursday with Bortles and Chad Henne both held out. As was the case throughout most of preseason and training camp, Allen was impressive Thursday. He capped an early 75-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Shaq Evans and finished completing 17 of 26 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
7.Allen probably has a future with the Jaguars.This has been fairly evident throughout training camp, with the rookie impressive enough that he appears very likely to make the 53-man roster. Allen isn't likely to be the backup to Bortles this season, but in 2017? That's a possibility.
8.Sheldon Day is going to contribute.The Jaguars love rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Day's ability to disrupt from the interior of the line. Those attributes had showed in the offseason and early in training camp before a back injury kept him out three weeks. They showed again Thursday, and it appears Day has the ability to contribute sooner rather than later.
9.There's intriguing youth on defense – and not just drafted youth.Yes, Jack and cornerback Jalen Ramsey flashed in the preseason. And it's obvious that Leos Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue are going to have key roles. But several other young players flashed in a big way in the preseason, including – but not limited to – cornerback Josh Johnson, linebacker Hayes Pullard and cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Nick Marshall. That group helped make this a tough cut-down for Caldwell.
10.Chris Smith improved this offseason and training camp.When Caldwell discussed the roster Thursday night, one player he mentioned was the aforementioned Johnson – who stood out with two interceptions in the last three games. The other was third-year defensive end Chris Smith, who seemed like a long shot to make the roster during the offseason. That shot doesn't seem long after Thursday.
11.Jason Myers is worth monitoring. Second-year veteran Jason Myers won the kicking job when the team released Sam Ficken last week, and there was little question of that going another way. Myers' two preseason missed field goals were from 49 and 57 yards. Both came Thursday against Atlanta. Missing from 57 yards is acceptable. Missing from 49 yards isn't completely unacceptable. Still, considering his extra-point struggles last season … yes, this area is worth watching. Closely.
12.The preseason is over.All that's left now is the trim to 53. After that, it's time to get ready for Green Bay Week 1. It's here. At last.