JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned from the week of the Jaguars' loss to the Detroit Lions at EverBank Field Friday in the third game of the 2015 preseason …
1)The offensive improvement is real.We'll get to the defense soon, but the focus for Preseason Week 3 – the entire preseason, actually – is the first-team offense. Blake Bortles. The line. Tight end Marcedes Lewis. Wide receiver Allen Hurns. All made plays Friday. This group looks better. A lot better.
2)The defense still needs work …Friday wasn't the defense's best game of the preseason. There were missed tackles and the pass-rush issues from the first two preseason games remained. The defense wasn't stellar last preseason and played well much of the regular season. The unit will have to repeat that this season.
3)… and in particular, that means the pass rush.Head Coach Gus Bradley remains confident the team will get pass rush from its three-Leo lightning package in passing situations; his concern is the first- and second-down rush. The Jaguars are trying to figure way to get results there with blitzes and pressure. That's necessary, but risky.
4)The Jaguars miss Sen'Derrick Marks. The veteran defensive tackle has missed the preseason and training camp recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. While he has set a goal of returning for the September 13 regular-season opener against Carolina, that's far from guaranteed. The date is fast approaching and it's obvious the Jaguars miss Marks' penetrating presence. They need him healthy and at least close to full speed.
5)Blake Bortles' improvement is real.It's burying the lede big-time to have Bortles as Entry No. 5. He was that good Friday. Actually, he has been that good throughout the preseason. Whatever else the Jaguars needed or in the preseason they absolutely needed to see improvement from Bortles. Through three games, they have seen that. For that reason alone, the preseason is a success so far.
6)The offensive line's improvement is real, too.Take Entry No. 5 and copy/paste. The strides Bortles has made wouldn't be possible without the strides made by the line. Is the line a strength? We can't call it that until the regular season, but it appears possible.
7)Allen Hurns can catch.Well, of course he can. He proved that as a rookie last season. But after some early preseason drops he was being widely questioned by fans and observers. His four receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown Friday should serve as a reminder of his value to this offense.
8)Bryan Walters has a real chance.The veteran free-agent receiver has been overlooked throughout the offseason and training camp. It's time to stop overlooking him. Not only will he probably be on the team, he seems to have a chance to contribute a lot.
9)This offense has weapons.Lewis and Hurns made big first-half plays Friday. Running back Denard Robinson made plays in the passing game. The offense looked efficient and dangerous – and that was without tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Marqise Lee. Rookie running back T.J. Yeldon also was adjusting to NFL speed in his professional debut. To summarize: the Jaguars seem to have a lot of young talent. When it matures and develops, it could be potent.
10)The offense can score in the red zone.The teeth-gnashing over this topic last week was beyond premature. Still, the first-team offense Jaguars wanted to improve this area after three field goals on three drives in a Preseason Week 2 loss to the New York Giants. You don't "fix" red-zone offense, particularly in the preseason, but the Jaguars scored red-zone touchdowns on each of their first two drives Friday. That's a positive.
11)Marcedes Lewis is going to be a key part of the offense.This has been obvious throughout training camp. It was more obvious Friday. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson's offense often utilizes two tight ends, and that means Lewis is going to have a key role. He caught three passes for 51 yards Friday and he should improve when Thomas returns to the lineup.
12)The Jaguars believe in Luke Joeckel.He's probably the most-scrutinized player on the team, and he's hardly flawless. But Bradley for a second consecutive week said the third-year left tackle is progressing, particularly when it comes to handling power pass rush.
13)Stefen Wisniewski is the starting center.This goes back to the beginning of the week, but the Jaguars after a tight training camp battle named Wisniewski the starting center. That meant Luke Bowanko is the backup, and we learned, too, that Bowanko will work outside at tackle.
14)Tyler Shatley is a key backup on the offensive line.The second-year guard/center played 71 plays against Detroit, working with the starters when right guard Brandon Linder left with a minor toe injury. Bradley said early in the week Bowanko might be the offensive line's "sixth man." He said Saturday that might actually be Shatley. Either way, Shatley appears to be a strength.
15.Andre Branch will miss time.The Leo end will miss what the team termed "significant time" after sustaining a sprained medial collateral ligament against the Lions. That's a blow to the pass rush. Look for Chris Smith to start for Branch, with Chris Clemons playing the Leo on third downs and Ryan Davis continuing to work as an interior Leo rusher.
16.Blake Bortles looks good – maybe really good. We mentioned this already? Well, why not. As important as this is, you can't mention it enough.