JACKSONVILLE – What We Learned during the week that was the Jaguars' first game of the 2015 preseason …
1. Blake Bortles is almost certainly, definitely, obviously improved.The second-year veteran looked improved during the offseason. He looked improved in training camp. He absolutely looked improved in a 23-21 Preseason Week 1 win over the Steelers Friday. He was more accurate. He was poised. He showed good footwork. He made good decisions. He moved the first-team offense. He went 11 of 15 for 118 yards with three drops. So, why "almost certainly … improved?" Well, we still have to see it during the regular season and it has to last, but what we have seen is oh-so-encouraging.
2. Chad Henne is having a good camp/preseason.Henne is one of the NFL's top backup quarterbacks. He always has been a good practice player and this camp has been no exception. He looked very good in the scrimmage, too. People like to speculate on the Jaguars trying to trade Henne. Not likely. He's really valuable in his role.
3. The offense … so far, so good.Preseason Week 1 is far, far too early to call the offense improved. And one preseason game also isn't proof that Greg Olson is awesome at coordinating offenses. But the offensive performance Friday was a good sign. The quarterbacks looked good, and the front-line units moved effectively. That hasn't been the case in a while.
4. The run looks better.Once again … one good preseason performance does not an entire regular season make. But Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley has talked since the end of last season about wanting an improved running game. On Friday, he got it. Oh, and all of those people writing off Toby Gerhart … not just yet, huh?
5. All is not perfect.The offense stumbled early and the defense got punched hard when Ben Roethlisberger found wide receiver Martavis Bryant over Jaguars cornerback Davon House for a 44-yard touchdown pass. There was also an early sack allowed by third-year left tackle Luke Joeckel, so while there was much to like in Preseason Week 1, it wasn't all roses. Then again, it rarely is two weeks in training camp.
Images from the first half of the Jaguars preseason opener against the Steelers.
5. Joeckel is struggling.It's not every play, and it's not as if the Jaguars have given up on the third-year veteran. In fact, Bradley on Saturday said Joeckel for the most part played well against the Steelers. Still, a few weeks into training camp, it's clear Joeckel has work to do – and that he allows too many pressures in one-on-one situations. That in itself isn't tragic. Joeckel is adjusting to playing with added weight and power and the Jaguars moved from a zone-blocking-based running scheme to a gap-blocking scheme. Still, Joeckel has had some glaringly difficult plays so far. Until those get reduced, his progress will remain a topic.
6. Jermey Parnell looks good.If Joeckel is a concern to many fans, Parnell doesn't appear to be such a worry. He has looked good. Very good. He and Brandon Linder appear to be making the right side of the offensive line a bona fide strength.
Images from the second half win over the Steelers.
7. Bernard Pierce can jump. Did you see that? That was cool.
8. Julius Thomas is out for the preseason ...The team's highest-profile offseason free-agent signing sustained a stable fracture in his right hand Friday. The two-time Pro Bowl tight end is out for at least the rest of the preseason. That's not ideal, but it's significantly better than a long-term injury.
9. … and so is safety Johnathan Cyprien.The starting free safety sustained a non-displaced finger fracture on his right hand. Bradley sounded Saturday as if he's surer about Cyprien playing in the regular-season opener than Thomas.
10. The hand thing is a trend.Thomas. Cyprien. Rookie T.J. Yeldon. Hand injuries obviously aren't a contagious thing, but all three of those players have sustained them in the span of a week. Call this a weird trend. A really weird trend.
11. The Jaguars are nicked up.That's all it is right now – nicked up. Not devastated. Not cursed. Not any of the ways concerned fans have described the injury situation this past week. They're nicked. Thomas is out for a few weeks, and wide receiver Marqise Lee remains week-to-week. Yeldon's getting better and defensive end Jared Odrick is resting a sore knee. With defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks likely out the entire preseason while returning from January reconstructive knee surgery, it might feel like an injured team, but they are minor thus far. It's not time to panic.
12. James Sample should practice this week …The rookie safety from Louisville sustained a broken arm in OTAs and was targeting return to practice around the preseason opener. The return will come a week late, and now the question becomes whether the return is too late to challenge Sergio Brown for the starting free safety position.
13. … so should Chris Clemons.The Leo defensive end has been on the active non-football injury list throughout training camp. He is expected to practice this week. That gives him pretty much four weeks to prepare for the regular-season opener. That actually may be the ideal amount of time for a 13-year veteran.
14. Marcedes Lewis has been very good.Bradley called Lewis' camp his best in three seasons. It's his best in a couple of years before that, too. It has the feel of a good year for Lewis. That's been said a lot during Lewis' career. We'll see if this is one of those years where what's said turns out to be right.
15. Bortles looks better.There are no more important three words around the Jaguars right now.