The score may not have been in their favor when the game ended, but the home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided Jaguar fans some hope.
It did not take long for Jacksonville's first-team offense to step up their game and show skeptics the vertical passing game is an option. In the process, the receiving depth chart has begun to gel as players jockey for roster spots.
Troy Williamson has emerged as the unlikely star of the passing offense, putting up one of the most impressive performances by any receiver during the Jack Del Rio era, breaking big plays of 74 and 61 yards.
He set the tone for his night on the first play from scrimmage by running through the Tampa secondary and hauling in a David Garrard bomb for a touchdown.
Williamson has put extra effort in this year to resurrect his career, and the work appears to be paying off. With Mike Walker and Mike Thomas both missing playing time, Williamson has taken advantage of the opportunity by becoming one of the more reliable targets for David Garrard.
While Williamson was having a career night, seventh-round draft pick Tiquan Underwood was probably wishing he were somewhere else.
The promising training camp for the rookie receiver became a distant memory as Underwood muffed two catchable passes, and he missed a chance to haul in a touchdown during the fourth quarter.
Marcedes Lewis has been working on improving his drop situation, but on his first pass attempt, Garrard hit him squarely between the numbers, and the ball fell incomplete. While the defense was right there on the play, the pass should have been caught.
Lewis did make a difficult grab later in the game in traffic, but it is the drops that continue to be a lingering issue.
After registering a season where he had the most drops for any tight end in the league, every pass thrown his way that winds up on the ground is going to draw attention.
The offensive line showed marked improvement in providing better protection for Garrard, but there were still issues with penalties and protection breakdowns.
Vince Manuwai showed signs of rust allowing a defender to sneak by and sack Garrard. But it was silly procedural penalties by Uche Nwanderi and Tony Pashos which be a continual cause for concern.
The defense had a mixed performance. With former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich starting for Tampa, there was a certain expectation for the pass rush to have a good night.
However, the closest the team came to a sack came when Reggie Hayward chased Byron out of the pocket for a short gain.
The defensive backfield struggled to cover Tampa receivers and tight ends throughout the night. The middle of the defense was exposed repeatedly as Tampa picked apart the secondary.
Sean Considine and Reggie Nelson appeared to be struggling with a communication breakdown on the first Tampa touchdown, as Nelson arrived late on the play and Considine was unable to keep up with Jerramy Stevens on the 17-yard score.
The performance by Troy Williamson aside, the Jaguars offense struggled to do anything with any level of consistency.
The running game continues to be a concern, as the depth chart did little to inspire confidence they can step up and help Maurice Jones-Drew in carrying the load.
Despite concerns about the offense and defense, both units appear to be headed in the right direction for a team in rebuilding mode.
The biggest worry for the Jaguars continues to be the dismal performance by the special teams unit.
Against Miami, the kicker lead the team in special team tackles. Last night, not only did the Jaguars struggle to contain Tampa's return game, but also suffered mental mistakes by Brian Witherspoon leaving them with terrible field position.
In the second half, Witherspoon fielded a kick that appeared to be headed out of bounds. When he hauled in the kick along the sideline, he stepped out of bounds immediately, and the Jaguars were forced to start their drive in the shadow of the goal post.
Boneheaded mistakes like these are usually reserved for rookies. However, Witherspoon should know better.
The Jaguars head north to face the Eagles in Philadelphia for the third pre-season game. Roster spots will be gained or lost based upon what happens this week.
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