JACKSONVILLE – Here are 10 Ten Things to watch when the Jaguars play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, on Friday …
1. Blake Bortles. You probably didn’t need to be reminded of this, because just about everyone who watches the Jaguars has been watching Bortles the first two weeks of the preseason. And they definitely will be watching him Friday, because he’ll get his first game repetitions with the first-team offense. Bortles won’t start the regular-season opener against Philadelphia, so his time with the ones in the preseason will be the closest thing to real-game-versus-the-starters for a while. He worked about seven plays with the ones Monday and Tuesday, but it will be different against an opposing defense.
2. Blake Bortles, specifically. OK, everyone knows to watch Bortles, but what to watch specifically? Look to see how he handles the speed of the secondary, and look to see how he handles it when Detroit gets a pass rush on him. Bortles has been good in the pocket, handling pressure well, and he has been exceptionally good on the run. No reason to think that will change, but this may be his toughest test yet.
3. Chad Henne. Here’s what to watch with Henne: the determination with which he is playing. It’s probably overstating it to say he’s gritting his teeth and fighting for his starting quarterbacking job, but he has played well in practice since Bortles began playing well in games. He also played well in a preseason loss to Chicago Thursday. Look for Henne to be solid on intermediate routes and look for him to keep the offense in high-tempo.
4. Brandon Linder at right guard. The search for a starting center/right guard combination has been second as a hot training camp topic only to quarterback in recent weeks. Rookie Brandon Linder is going to start at one of the spots, and he worked at right guard with the first team much of the week. He’s a player to watch because it looks like he’s going to be a starter somewhere for a while.
5. Jacques McClendon at center. Bigger news than Linder perhaps settling in at right guard was that Jacques McClendon worked at first-team center three days this week. He’s expected to start against the Lions, too. This is the longest, most-serious look the veteran has had at center, and McClendon has a very real chance to start over Mike Brewster, who entered training camp as the starter and who started there the first two preseason games. Still, don’t forget about …
6. Luke Bowanko at center. The rookie sixth-round selection recovered quickly from an ankle sprain sustained against the Bears Thursday, and he could play against Detroit. If he does, he’s going to get a serious look at center. He has improved rapidly since the beginning of training camp. The Jaguars took a look at him at center and Linder at right guard last week – and vice-versa. Don’t be surprised if the Jaguars take a look at those two side by side again Friday.
7. The running back rotation. We could learn quite a bit here Friday, particularly how things could shake out behind starter Toby Gerhart. Denard Robinson rushed for 34 yards on six carries against Chicago, and if he performs well Friday he could make a legitimate push for the backup job. The order in which Jordan Todman, Robinson and Storm Johnson enter the game could be a sign about the eventual depth chart here.
8. Cecil Shorts III is back … The veteran wide receiver returned this week from a hamstring issue that kept him out since the first day of training camp. He looked good the first few days, and looked better on Wednesday. He likely will start and play about 15 plays Friday but won’t play the entirety of any extended drives. The Jaguars need Shorts in the lineup, and if he gets his expected repetitions Friday and a quarter against Atlanta this week, he should be full-go and ready for the regular-season opener.
9. … and so is Dekoda Watson. The veteran linebacker – who signed as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason – will make his Jaguars debut Friday, having missed the offseason and training camp with a sports hernia injury. The Jaguars originally expected Watson to start the regular season at the Otto linebacker position designed around his skill set, but second-year veteran LaRoy Reynolds has played well in Watson’s absence and is first on the depth chart. Watson, like Shorts, likely will play about 15 repetitions as the team continues to be cautious with his return. Watson this week called the circumstances around his return “bittersweet,” saying the excitement of being back was somewhat tempered knowing trainers still didn’t want him going all out for an entire half of football.
10. The dress rehearsal. Observers love Week 3 of the preseason because it gives them a chance to watch extended competition between teams’ starters. That’s expected to be the case for at least a half on Friday, which will mean a chance to see the Henne, Bortles and the Jaguars’ offense against a very good Detroit defensive line – and it will give an improving Jaguars’ defense a chance to go against a very good Lions offense. Jaguars coaches value Week 3 for more than just those sorts of matchups, seeing Week 3 of preseason as the closest thing the team will have to a “dress rehearsal” for a regular-season game. “We’ve got 53 new guys on our team that are going through this whole week for the first time,” Bradley said. “So to get them acclimated to what a week is like, how we prepare, how we game-plan, the cut ups, things like that – that’s a big thing for us right now. And then also to go out there and compete and see how much improvement we’ve made over the last couple of weeks.”