Most of the Jaguars' rookies will be playing for a roster spot on Thursday. Eben Britton, of course, is in a class above most rookies. Britton is the Jaguars' future at right tackle. The only question that remains is when will that future begin?
The number one drama heading into the Jaguars' preseason finale and the team's final cuts this weekend is what coach Jack Del Rio and, ultimately, General Manager Gene Smith will decide to do at right tackle. Will veteran Tony Pashos retain his starting job, or might Britton be judged ready to take that job?
"In my mind, as I said before, I want to put myself in a spot where I can be one of the guys people can rely on on this team. I want to work my way into a starting spot," Britton said as the Jaguars eased through final preparations for Thursday night's game against the visiting Washington Redskins.
Britton is said to have made major strides in his development during this preseason. He is considered to be head and shoulders above where he was when OTAs ended in June. How advanced is he? Is he advanced enough to trust against a pass-rusher such as Robert Mathis of the Colts, the Jaguars' opening-day opponent?
"I honestly don't know but I'm going to give it everything I've got if that's the position I'm put into," Britton said. "I don't think I was drafted to back people up on the bench. It puts a lot of pressure on me, but it gives me a lot of confidence."
Britton spent time learning to play guard in OTA's, before that attempt was abandoned and he was returned permanently to tackle. These days, Pashos is spending time taking snaps at guard, which might or might not carry with it a message.
"I think I'm getting there. I try to finish every play. I try to do the things that have gotten me here to the max. I'm trying to develop my skills further. It seems to be working out right now," Britton said.
The possibility exists Britton, the Jaguars' second-round draft pick, and Eugene Monroe, the eighth pick of this year's draft, will be the Jaguars' starting tackles on opening day. The last time the Jaguars' starting tackles were both rookies was in 1995, the team's inaugural season, when Tony Boselli, the second pick of that draft, and Brian DeMarco, a second-round pick, were the starters.
"Most times, in this position, the vet won't talk to the guy like me. At the beginning of camp, there was a little tension," Britton said of his relationship with Pashos. "It was for real. These are grown men with families and they don't want a guy taking their job. Tony, being the great guy he is, has been incredibly helpful to me. He's doing everything he can to make me feel like I know what I'm doing."
Right tackle isn't the only position at which a decision must be made or uncertainty exists.
Left tackle—Is Monroe ready to unseat Tra Thomas? The better question might be: Is Monroe ready to take on Dwight Freeney? Thursday night's game could determine how that question is answered.
Right guard—Uche Nwaneri represents youth and Mo Williams represents experience. Nwaneri is thought to have an edge in this battle, but might the Jaguars need a more experienced man at right guard, if the decision is made to go with rookies at the tackles? In other words, what the Jaguars do at right tackle may have something to do with what they decide at right guard.
Wide receiver—Much remains undecided, especially how many receivers the Jags will keep and who the final few will be. Torry Holt, Troy Williamson and Nate Hughes appear to be locks. Mike Sims-Walker will see his first action of the preseason. How high can he climb in just one game? Did Jarett Dillard win a roster spot with his touchdown catch in Philadelphia? Do rookies Mike Thomas and Tiquan Underwood still have a chance to make the team?
Cornerback—Third-round pick Derek Cox missed a golden opportunity to win a starting job. His lingering groin injury has kept him on the bench through three preseason games and the only question remaining is: Can Cox overtake starter Brian Williams in just one preseason game, should Cox play on Thursday? It's unlikely, though most figure Cox is destined to become the eventual starter.
Defensive tackle—Has rookie Terrance Knighton, in fact, won a starting job? Most believe he has.
Free safety—Del Rio has said Reggie Nelson will be the starter on opening day, but can anything be for sure with production as minimal as it has been at this position?
Long-snapper—Popular veteran Joe Zelenka is being sternly challenged by Jeremy Cain.
Punter—Adam Podlesh is thought to have the edge over Steve Weatherford, but there's no room for a shank in this battle.