JACKSONVILLE – Here’s What We Learned from the Jaguars’ 2014 preseason opener against Tampa Bay Friday and the second full week of 2014 training camp …
1. Blake Bortles is really progressing …Bortles remains the primary storyline of 2014 training camp – and yes, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft almost certainly will remain the Jaguars’ primary storyline until he’s starting at quarterback. Actually, he will probably remain the primary storyline for a long, long time after that. On Friday, it appeared that may be a positive for the Jaguars. Bortles played well against Tampa Bay. He’s better now than he was in the offseason and he looked better Friday than he did the previous week in the Jaguars’ controlled scrimmage. That’s progress. No better news for the Jaguars than that.
2. Bortles is going to be good. Progress is one thing, but what good is it if you’re ceiling isn’t high? Yes, Bortles was playing against Tampa Bay’s second team. And yes, the Buccaneers only blitzed Bortles once. Still, the ceiling for Bortles looks high. It’s hard to imagine watching him that he won’t be good. He made NFL throws. He made NFL decisions. He showed poise. Within the framework of what he was asked to do, he did it. That doesn’t mean it’s time to start him, though, which leads us to …
3. Chad Henne is the starter. Henne is the starting quarterback. The Jaguars’ plan since they drafted Bortles in May has been for Henne to start and give Bortles time to develop. One preseason game doesn’t change that. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley reiterated on Saturday that Henne is the starter and Bortles is the backup and all the fan protest and emails and radio chatter won’t change that.
4. Bortles will work with the first team in the preseason. It’s probably not going to happen this week, but Bradley said Saturday Bortles likely will work with the first team sometime in the preseason. That’s the case with a lot of rookies, though of course it will make more news when it’s Bortles.
5. Cecil Shorts III and Allen Robinson will be out another week. That’s the bad news for the Jaguars. The significantly better news is that Shorts could be back the following week against Detroit and Robinson – like Shorts, one of the Jaguars’ top three receivers – may not be long after that. Neither is a long-term injury and in the case of Shorts, if he can get repetitions in the final two preseason games he’ll be ready for the regular-season opener.
6. The Jaguars’ defensive line is stout … The Jaguars signed end Chris Clemons, end Red Bryant and tackle Ziggy Hood in the offseason to get better up front. That meant a lot of eyes on that area early against the Buccaneers. This was a group that was ready for its close-up. The first-team unit was dominant at times early, and the ability to stop the run set the tone for the entire team.
7…. and it’s deep. Ryan Davis forced two penalties pass rushing. Tyson Alualu had a sack/fumble on a big-time swim move. The idea behind the offseason defensive line signings was to create reliable, productive depth. So far, so good.
8. Davis is going to have a role this season. Davis, who originally signed as a collegiate free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft, has emerged not only as a player who will make the team but as one who will have a significant role as a Leo pass rusher. He has real ability as an inside rusher, and he and rookie Chris Smith give the team quality depth at the Leo.
9. Marqise Lee needs to be more consistent. After playing well throughout much of training camp, Lee did not catch a pass in the preseason opener. Bradley said afterward significantly more consistency is needed from the rookie second-round wide receiver. “You can’t change speeds,” Bradley said. “You can’t choose when and when not to. I’ve told you before that I’ve seen him switch to where he’s more focused. I’d like to visit with him about what happened (Friday). He did play good, but he could have done some things even more precise. It wasn’t exactly where we need him to be.”
10. Jordan Todman is the backup running back. We knew that most of the offseason, and Todman remains the backup behind starter Toby Gerhart. He started in Gerhart’s absence against Tampa Bay Friday. As significant was that rookie seventh-round selection Storm Johnson worked as the backup behind Todman with second-year veteran Denard Robinson behind the other three. The competition is ongoing, but Johnson has earned playing time.
11. Telvin Smith may be for real. The rookie outside linebacker has adapted quickly, and is playing a role as a backup. He also is playing extensively with the starters in a nickel role. His speed gives him significant play-making ability, and while he still must grow into a role as an every-down linebacker he appears ready to make an impact in passing situations.
12. The competition is ongoing at center. Third-year veteran Mike Brewster – the starter at center throughout the offseason and much of training camp – and had two errant snaps Friday. Jacques McClendon also got time at the position. The Jaguars want to find something that works at right guard and center and they’re working Brewster, McClendon and rookie Brandon Linder at the spots. Linder seems likely to start at right guard, but the center position for now is far less certain.
13. Luke Joeckel is healthy and ready. Joeckel has been overlooked at times during training camp, and that’s a good thing. It means the No. 2 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft is settling in at his natural position of left tackle. It also means he’s healthy. After rehabilitating the ankle injury that sidelined him the last 11 games of last season, Joeckel has yet to miss a practice in training camp and he played well Friday in his second NFL start of any kind at left tackle. “If you talk to Luke, he would say we did pretty well, but room for improvement,” Bradley said.
14. This is a different team than last season. Sure, that’s supposed to be the case. The Jaguars this time last year had just lost their preseason opener to the Miami Dolphins, 27-3. Little went right, and months of roster moves and culture changed lay ahead. Fast forward to this season, and the Jaguars appear to have a chance to have a reliable defense and a young quarterback with potential to grow into a long-term fixture at the position. That’s a lot of ground to have covered in a year.