5 Observations from the Jacksonville Jaguars Preseason Opener
Jacksonville Jaguars football is officially back!
The Jaguars took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to open the preseason at EverBank Field. The game stood to be a showcase for all the newly acquired talent the rebuilding franchise has brought in over the offseason.
Like any preseason game there was some good, some bad and some ugly. The important thing is not to overreact on either side. After all, it is only one game.
Nevertheless, we stand to learn a lot about a team that we really don’t know much about at this point.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from the first preseason game.
Telvin Smith Is Very Good
Telvin Smith may be undersized (6’3”, 218 pounds), but when he’s on the field, he’s an animal.
Smith saw a lot of opportunities with the first-team defense and was around the ball on every play. Despite only registering one tackle, Smith displayed great acceleration in pursuit and proved to be a big factor on defense.
In one particular play Smith applied pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown, forcing him to throw a poor pass that was intercepted by Winston Guy who returned it for a touchdown.
Smith showed us exactly what we saw from him at Florida State University—a smallish player for his position with a lot of speed and passion on the field. If this is what we can expect from him going forward he’s going to be a big-time player on defense.
Offensive Line Needs Work
While Luke Joeckel and Brandon Linder looked very good in their first action of the season, the rest of the offensive line really struggled.
The biggest issue here was my biggest question coming in: Mike Brewster.
Brewster was going to be given a great opportunity to claim the starting center spot. However, on his first snap of the game he let Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy blow past him and put pressure on Chad Henne. On two other occasions Brewster sent shotgun snaps over the head of Henne for big losses.
Another offensive lineman who struggled was Jacques McClendon, who started at right guard next to Mike Brewster. At times McClendon looked confused and overmatched by his opponent and was the reason Henne was under duress so often. McClendon eventually moved to center where I thought he played markedly better.
The Jaguars would be wise to get Linder in with the first-team offense, and get things sorted out as quickly as possible.
Defensive Line Can Dominate
The Jaguars’ front office made it a priority to improve the depth along the defensive line this offseason. They brought in veterans Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood in hopes of generating a strong pass rush.
The Jaguars defensive line was absolutely incredible against the Buccaneers. They consistently generated pressure on Josh McCown and forced a few bad throws and two fumbles. The team finished with three sacks—a number that could have easily been much more.
Most impressive was defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks who played like a man possessed. Marks was all over the place recording four tackles and a forced fumble. The true impact Marks had on the game won’t be quantified on the stat sheet. Instead, if you watch the game he’ll easily be recognized as the best player on the field.
With upgrades throughout and an aggressive defensive scheme this unit can be a big surprise this season. They could easily rank toward the top of the league when all is said and done.
Winston Guy the Playmaker
With incumbent starter Josh Evans nursing a foot injury, Winston Guy has been able to grab the opening at the free safety position.
I had legitimate concerns about Guy’s ability to cover deep. Guy has great range but is widely recognized as a player who is most effective closer to the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Guy looked fantastic tonight. He was rarely out of position in coverage and demonstrated great pursuit. He also diagnosed plays and reacted excellently when the ball was in his area.
Guy's most memorable play was the interception that he returned for a touchdown. But don’t discount how well he played the entire game. Guy has all the makings of a playmaker on the back end and appears to be someone who will complement safety Johnathan Cyprien.
Keep an eye on him as he develops and gets more comfortable.
Blake Bortles Impresses
Blake Bortles made his NFL debut with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. After a dismal start by starter Chad Henne, it was imperative that Bortles get his unit off to a good start.
Bortles didn’t disappoint.
Bortles came out and made a few nice completions to receiver Allen Hurns to get started. After the half, Bortles put together a long scoring drive that resulted in multiple big plays to second-year receiver Mike Brown. Bortles finished 7-of-11 for 117 yards.
Bortles did have one bad throw, a 3rd-and-long situation that was almost intercepted by Da’quan Bowers at the line of scrimmage. Aside from that, Bortles was exactly what you hoped he would be—calm, poised and in control of the offense.
Watching Bortles stand in the pocket, make successful presnap reads and deliver precision passes gave me a feeling that this could be a franchise-changing moment. The rookie signal-caller displayed all the attributes of a franchise quarterback in this game.
If this game was any indication, Bortles may actually have a legitimate chance to start by Week 1. Bortles was clearly the best quarterback on the field, and Henne’s struggles will get tiresome after too long.
*All stats courtesy NFL.com.