Never mind the old "one game at a time" adage. We're less than two weeks away from Jacksonville's regular season opener, and it's time to start sizing up the opposition.
After all, that's what the Jaguars are doing. They'll travel to Atlanta for a fourth and final preseason contest this week, but workhorse running back Maurice Jones-Drew won't play and the rest of their surefire starters will see limited action.
Tune in for that game, and you'll sit through a clash between the back ends of two teams' depth charts. For head coach Jack Del Rio and his assistants, it's the last chance to see this season's backups in pads before Saturday's mandatory roster cuts.
If you enjoy the prosaic chore of sifting through 75 players—a fair few of them camp bodies—to find the 53 who'll collect game checks from the Jaguars in the upcoming season, have at it.
As it relates to the on-field battle against the Broncos next weekend, the most important angle is the potential return of running back Knowshon Moreno and offensive tackle Ryan Clady.
Having missed most of the preseason games due to injury, Moreno (strained hamstring) and Clady (torn patellar tendon) are two of the Jaguars' main concerns in game-planning for the season opener. Recently, Denver head coach Josh McDaniels suggested they'll see significant snaps against the Vikings.
When they're on the field, watch Clady's lateral movement and Moreno's cuts. Awkwardness in either player's technique will be a red flag for Jacksonville in scouting the Broncos. If Clady looks limited, the Jaguars will test him with twists and blitzes; if Moreno's slowed, they can cheat the safeties back a bit.
With that said, those of you who'll be in EverBank Field's stands on Sept. 12 will want to pay even closer attention to rookie third-string quarterback Tim Tebow.
Thus far this preseason, Tebow has completed 13 of his 23 pass attempts for 177 yards against backups from the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steeelers. He has appeared in two of Denver's three games, missing one due to a rib injury suffered on the last play against Cincinnati.
Nevertheless, his rabid fan base has clamored for the demotion of current second-stringer Brady Quinn. Quinn, whose 18-of-35 passing was even less inspiring than Tebow's in August, doesn't have the same protected "first-rounder" status with the Broncos that he enjoyed in Cleveland over the past three years.
In watching Tebow this Thursday, it won't matter whether he looks like a cold-blooded killer or a try-hard, out-of-position athlete under center. Kyle Orton—who recently signed a one-year, $9 million contract extension—is Denver's entrenched starter, and Jacksonville's defense will prepare for him.
But a few consecutive completions or a tough run (or, God forbid, a second touchdown) by Tebow will inevitably become big news in the week leading up to his return to Jacksonville.
That's right, Tebow's from Jacksonville. He played at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra and chose a school near home (the University of Florida in Gainesville) for his college ball. There was a slight uptick in local interest around this year's draft, hoping the Jaguars would keep Tebow at home.
A slight uptick, that is, in the same way that Hurricane Andrew was a scattered shower.
There were shirts: "If you draft him [Tebow], we will come." There were petitions. The governor chimed in. And now, less than five months after the Jaguars shrugged their shoulders at the vox populi and went about their draft-day business, the circus is coming back to town.
There's no reason that a fan in Jacksonville's local market shouldn't catch the Jaguars' final preseason game Thursday night on TV—or, better yet, in person.
Still, the real "must-watch" this week will be NFL Network's re-air of Denver at Minnesota on Friday. Sizing up Moreno and Clady will be a good way for the informed observer to shake that summer rust off, and listening to all the talk about Tebow will be great practice for enduring next week.