JACKSONVILLE -- Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the Jaguars’ 24-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the 2018 preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field Thursday …
1.The Jaguars appear in good shape at quarterback – maybe really good shape. A preview: this Preseason Week 1 What We Learned is quarterback-centric. The good news for the Jaguars is for at least three quarters Thursday, they looked good there. Very good.
2.Bortles is as advertised I. Starting quarterback Blake Bortles has just looked different all offseason. Experienced. Poised. Accurate. Relaxed. Better. One 15-play possession won’t put him in the Pro Bowl, but he showed on Thursday’s opening drive why this team believes in him.
3.Bortles is as advertised II. This theme is too important to wedge into one entry. Bortles completed six of nine passes for 53 yards on the 79-yard game-opening drive, twice converting on third down with passes. He stood tall under pressure and completed a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Dede Westbrook on third-and-10 from the Saints 22. He capped it with a two-yard touchdown. He couldn’t have had a better start.
4.The first-team offense is promising. The first drive wasn’t just Bortles. Receivers were open. The line held blocks. The Jaguars’ first-team offense had 12-to-15 plays (Head Coach Doug Marrone’s planned snap count for the unit) to give itself a good feeling Thursday. Done.
5.Kessler looks like a solid backup quarterback. Backup quarterback Cody Kessler appeared to struggle at organized team activities – and at times early in training camp. That made sense considering he just joined the Jaguars in an offseason trade from Cleveland. But Kessler had looked better during the past week, and continued that improvement Thursday: 14-of-17 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Bortles is the unquestioned starter, but the questions about Kessler got quieter Thursday.
6.Lee needs work. Third-team rookie quarterback Tanner Lee took five sacks while playing a quarter in his NFL debut. He’s a developmental player, but the pocket presence must develop. Fast.
Images from the Jaguars preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints
7.Westbrook looks a year better. Most entries in this WWL come with the caveat that it’s just one preseason game. That’s true of Westbrook’s performance, but his three receptions for 32 yards continued what has been a notably consistent training camp. And his 16-yard reception for a first down in the first quarter was the sort of athletic, effort-based reception he has made throughout camp.
8.Leonard Fournette is leaner – and that could be good. This training-camp storyline continued Thursday. The second-year running back looked quicker Thursday at 223 pounds than he did playing near 240 last season as a rookie – and he looked no less powerful. Fournette still must show he can stay healthy over the course of the season, but he averaged 4.8 yards on five first-drive carries Thursday – and he looked sudden and strong while doing so.
9.This team can run. It’s way too early to say the Jaguars have accomplished their offseason goal of improving a strong offensive front. But the Jaguars played Thursday without two starters – left guard Andrew Norwell and right tackle Jermey Parnell – and still ran efficiently early. A good sign. “They’re doing a great job,” running back Corey Grant said of the line.
10.The new uniforms are cool … The Jaguars wore teal jerseys and white pants Thursday. The teal stood out – sharp and clean. The numbers were easy to see – even for aging sportswriter eyes. A good debut for the new threads.
11. … and the helmets are, too. All black … aaaaah.
12.The receivers look balanced – and potent. Westbrook caught three passes for 32 yards. Marqise Lee converted a first down with a first-quarter reception. Donte Moncrief had three receptions for 21 yards and got good yardage after the catch with a physical move in the first quarter. Rookie DJ Chark Jr. had a 15-yard reception. Those statistics aren’t earth-shattering, but they show a balanced, potent group that’s going to get a lot of opportunities in 2018.
13.Shane Wynn. The third-year wide receiver just keeps making plays. His 24-yard reception from Kessler Thursday was the sort of dynamic, downfield play he has made routinely in camp. “I’m basically just playing with a chip on my shoulder, man,” Wynn said. “I’m just trying to do what I can do for the team. When my number is called, I just do what I can do and hopefully continue to make plays.”
14.Leon Jacobs looked the part. The rookie strong-side linebacker got four series with the first-team defense. He made two early tackles, and appeared to hold his point well. “It feels good they have the trust in me to go out and be the starter,” Jacobs said afterward. “I was up and down. There are some plays I can get better on. Some things I did good.”
15.Football is back. Cool, right? At last.