JACKSONVILLE – The primary storyline is behind center.
While that storyline will begin taking shape immediately – from the first offensive snap – for the Jaguars in the preseason opener Friday, it will take on long-term importance sometime after that.
That’s because while veteran Chad Henne will start at quarterback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday at EverBank Field, Blake Bortles – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft – will play when the second team enters the game.
Bortles is expected to play pretty much the entire second quarter and likely into the third quarter. And know this:
When Bortles plays, that’s a storyline – actually, it’s THE storyline – but Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said Thursday the best way for Bortles and all Jaguars players to approach the preseason is to not approach it as if every play is the end-all.
Bortles said that’s exactly what he’ll try to do.
“You obviously want to show them what you can do, and you want to show you can move the ball and be successful,” Bortles said. “But I think what he (Bradley) means in our world is, ‘Don’t force things. Don’t take shots that aren’t there. Take a check down. Throw it to your (running back). Move the chains, but don’t try to be a hero.’”
Bortles said he and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch this week went through a simulated game plan, with Bortles pointing out plays with which he was comfortable.
“I feel real good about it,” Bortles said.
Bortles said overall he looks forward to his first NFL game action.
“I think it will be a lot of fun,” Bortles said. “I know Chad (Henne) is the starter and I know I’m the backup. When they call my number, I’ll try to go in and do what Chad was doing.”
Other storylines to watch Friday:
1. Ready for his close-up. Henne, in his seventh NFL season, has started 19 games in two seasons with the Jaguars, but this is the first time he’s entered the preseason as the starter. He’s expected to enter the regular season as the starter, too, and after talking during the offseason of assuming more of a leadership role this season, he has done that. During a slow period for the offense in practice this past Monday, Henne gathered his teammates around, encouraging them to pick up the energy, intensity and execution. That’s something he wouldn’t have done as a backup, and shows it is his indeed his team for now. Henne has appeared more confident and more in control during this year’s camp than in past seasons. But his task won’t be easy against Tampa Bay. Because of injuries, he’ll be working with a lot of reserves, with tight end Marcedes Lewis and rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee the only starting skill players expected to play Friday.
2. Strong up front. When the Jaguars signed defensive end Chris Clemons, defensive end Red Bryant and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood as free agents in the offseason, the intent was clear: get stronger, deeper and better on the defensive front. Add that trio to tackles Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller and end Tyson Alualu and you have a group that should be good against the run. Add Clemons to Andre Branch, Ryan Davis and Chris Smith and you have four Leo pass-rushers that could improve a pass rush that has struggled in recent seasons. “The first time we go out there as a group is always exciting,” Miller said. “We can go out there, play full speed and make plays. There’s no doubt we’re two deep at every position. That just makes everybody compete even harder. The big thing this year is we’ll have guys coming in, going out and they’re going to be fresh enough. It’s going to up our game. I’m looking forward to watching it.”
3. The running back rotation. With starting running back Toby Gerhart out with a hip flexor injury, we won’t see the Jaguars’ true rushing offense in the preseason opener. What we will see is the first in-game look at the competition for roles and playing time behind Gerhart. Backup Jordan Todman, who has looked good throughout camp, will start, with rookie seventh-round selection Storm Johnson the backup followed by second-year veteran Denard Robinson. All have flashed in practice, and the preseason will go a long way to determining roles. Robinson is of particular note. He struggled at times with ball security as a rookie, but has looked significantly better this offseason and training camp. How much has he improved? How will it translate to real games? The next step toward those answers is Friday.
4. Opportunity knocks. The situation at wide receiver isn’t ideal. The Jaguars will be without two of their top three receivers, Cecil Shorts III and rookie Allen Robinson. They also will be without Tandon Doss and Ace Sanders, the former of whom is out with an ankle injury and latter of whom is addressing personal issues that led to him being suspended the first four games of the regular season. Shorts and Robinson are expected back before the regular season, but their absence Friday means Lee, Allen Hurns and second-year veteran Mike Brown will be the top three receivers against Tampa Bay. After that, the receivers available are Kerry Taylor, Chad Bumphis, Lamaar Thomas, Kenny Shaw, Chad Hall and Ramses Barden. Shaw, Hall and Barden have been signed in the last week, and Bradley said Friday it was unclear whether or not Hall and Barden – signed Wednesday – will play.
5. First glance on the O-Line. The Jaguars retooled the offensive line in the offseason, and the result is a group with potential – but also one with new faces in almost all places. Austin Pasztor will start at right tackle, with Mike Brewster at center, unrestricted free-agent Zane Beadles at left guard and second-year veteran Luke Joeckel at left tackle. Rookie Brandon Linder has worked with the first team at right guard, and if he doesn’t start there Friday it doesn’t appear as if it will be long before he’s in the starting lineup. Brewster never has started a game at center, Beadles joined the team in the offseason and Joeckel started just five games – one at left tackle – last season before missing the final 11 games with an ankle injury. Joeckel said this is the longest he has gone without playing a football game since before he started playing football games. “It’s going to be nice to get back out there,” Joeckel said. “When I’m playing and playing, I never think about the ankle. The only time I ever think about it is when I get asked about it by reporters or other people. It’s good to have it out of my mind.” The good news for the offensive line is it appears there are a lot of parts in place for the long haul. The worry is that it can take time for an offensive line to gel, and the gelling process for this group begins Friday.