A Bleacher Report: My First-Hand Look at the Jaguars in Philadelphia
"Pleasure?" you ask.
Absolutely. For one, the fans at Lincoln Financial Field weren't nearly as hostile as I'd been led to believe—for this exhibition game, at least. One fellow in a nearby section drew cheers as he was dragged out by stadium security, but the Eagles fans near me were downright friendly.
More importantly, though, I had the chance to see the 2009 Jaguars up close. From seat four in Section 119, Row 16—on the 45-yard line, behind Jacksonville's bench—a few things stood out.
My most-prominent (and favorite) memory from last night's game is of how effectively Derrick Harvey contained Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick.
On one first-quarter play, Harvey rushed into the Eagles' backfield unblocked. He read Vick's fake handoff and squared up to make the tackle, cornering Vick in pursuit and lunging out to trip him up.
Soon after, Harvey beat tackle Jason Peters with a rip move and confronted Vick on a shovel pass play. Vick could have ran or passed, but Harvey had both options covered, taking LeSean McCoy down as soon as he got the pitch.
After an offseason spent bulking up to anchor better against the run, those two plays in particular show that Harvey has still retained the first-step quickness to be an effective pass rusher and the agility to pursue backs in open space.
Jacksonville also attempted to make use of Harvey and Quentin Groves' athleticism by lining them up as down linemen in a few 3-4 defensive looks.
The Jaguars tried to execute twists in those three-man fronts, with both Terrance Knighton and Derek Landri taking reps at nose tackle and slanting into the "B" gap between the offensive guard and tackle. But neither penetrated enough to give Harvey or Groves clean lanes into the "A" gap between the center and guard.
On offense, Jacksonville's linemen also had trouble imposing their will in the trenches.
Much of the credit goes to the Eagles' defensive line—particularly tackle Brodrick Bunkley, who played with an impressive combination of intelligence, aggression, and strength.
Bunkley crashed through the Jaguars' line to pressure Garrard, fought against double teams to stop runs between the tackles, and jolted Jacksonville guard Vince Manuwai back on multiple occasions. Even bowling-ball back Maurice Jones-Drew couldn't fight for many yards against Philadelphia's starting defensive front last night.
The Jaguars' only substantial offensive success came on a few screen plays that took advantage of the Eagles' aggressiveness.
On their longest play of the night, David Garrard passed to Jones-Drew in the face of an all-out blitz up the middle. With an escort of blockers, Jones-Drew weaved around blocks and broke a tackle before plowing into a safety for a few extra yards to end the play.
Tackles Tra Thomas and Eugene Monroe did a good job against the Eagles' edge rushers, and the whole line performed well on plays where they were able to block in open space. With the notable exception of Monroe, who missed almost two weeks of training camp, they looked leaner and played quicker than last year's linemen.
New strength coach Luke Richesson's offseason training regimen seems to have improved the conditioning of those players who participated. Considering the Jaguars' troubles getting push on runs up the middle, though, they might should have left more of the sand in their pants.
With Manuwai still shaking off the rust from missing last season, though, and some shuffling of personnel on the right side of the line, their struggles may simply be a lack of chemistry.
Uche Nwaneri took most of the first-team reps at right guard, while Maurice Williams—last year's opening-day starter who was lost for the season after tearing his biceps against Tennessee—played with the second team, hinting at a possible upset in that position battle.
But Nwaneri also lined up at center for one third-quarter series. Williams has also spent time snapping the ball in practice; with rookie Eben Britton able to play tackle and guard, and Thomas being considered for either tackle spot, the Jaguars clearly want to get as much utility as possible out of their depth up front.
On special teams, Josh Scobee had a good night. Most of his kickoffs had touchback distance, and his two 49-yard field goals sailed through high above the crossbar.
Really, Scobee's kicking was symbolic of Jacksonville's offseason thus far. The Jaguars have reshaped themselves to get leaner and meaner, and now they need to translate that physical capability into consistent execution.
From where I was sitting, I think they have the right pieces. They need only to find the right places for them to make it happen.
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