JACKSONVILLE – Here’s what we learned from the Jaguars’ 31-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday in the third game of the 2013 preseason . . .
1. The first-team offense can be good . . . If there has been an overriding takeaway from the last two weeks, that has been it. Whether Blaine Gabbert has been the quarterback, or whether Chad Henne has been playing, the first-team offense has been functioning efficiently. Against the Jets, Gabbert led two scoring drives and had momentum going in another. On Saturday, the first-team unit scored three touchdowns with Henne at quarterback. The NFL record book is probably safe, but for a team that has struggled offensively in recent seasons, it’s a good sign.
2.. . . maybe really good. OK, it’s just the preseason and there have been miscues and hiccups from the first unit, too. But looking around the offense at players such as Cecil Shorts III, Justin Blackmon, Denard Robinson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ace Sanders . . . there are a lot of guys who can make plays. If this group is healthy, it can develop into something very productive late in the season.
3. The offense needs to stay healthy. This is true of the entire roster, but you do wonder about the depth on offense. The skill positions appear to have players who can fill in adequately if starters are injured. That’s particularly true at running back, where Jordan Todman seems to have played his way onto the roster. But the offensive line doesn’t appear as deep, especially on the interior. The depth could be tested early depending on the severity of guard Will Rackley’s ankle injury.
4. Chad Henne will be a capable backup. Henne wasn’t as consistent Saturday as he was in the preseason opener, but he led the Jaguars to three touchdowns and had two touchdown passes. His 17-yard touchdown to wide receiver Justin Blackmon capped the team’s first series, with Henne making the right read and throwing on timing to an open Blackmon in the end zone. There’s no quarterback controversy. Gabbert will start, but Henne is capable and appears ready if needed.
5. Justin Blackmon is a special talent . . . The focus throughout much of the offseason and training camp was on Cecil Shorts III, and with reason. The third-year receiver had a breakout season last season and appears to have improved in the offseason. But Blackmon in two preseason games has been open consistently and has continued to show his knack for making the first defender miss and for using his body control to make plays. He’s very good and has a chance to be elite.
6. . . . and Blackmon will be missed. The offense has shown improvement in the last two games – perhaps not coincidentally, the two games in which Blackmon played this preseason. He will miss the first four games of the season because of a suspension. The Jaguars’ offense may have enough playmakers to overcome the loss, but his absence will certainly hurt.
7. The Jaguars could be improved at defensive tackle. Was there a better offseason free-agent acquisition for the Jaguars than defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks? Perhaps not – unless it was defensive tackle Roy Miller. Marks had several pressures Saturday and continued to be a perfect fit for Head Coach Gus Bradley’s defense. Miller has been stout against the run had a sack on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick Saturday.
PHOTO GALLERY OF PHI VS JAC
8. The pass rush still needs work. The pass rush wasn’t awful Saturday. There were plays when the front got pressure, and forced Vick from the pocket. The front appeared to be giving good effort, and if the secondary can cover, the line can be solid. At the same time, there were too many plays that Vick had far too much time to throw, and if that can’t get solved, there may be stretches this season in which the Jaguars give up a lot of intermediate and long passes.
9. Todman probably will be on the roster. What more does the first-year veteran do? He has shown quickness and speed in training camp and preseason, and he rushed for 105 yards on eight carries against Philadelphia. He had a 63-yard run for a touchdown in which he showed good vision to get to the outside and enough speed to outrun the secondary. Could Todman be pushing Justin Forsett for the backup role? With Forsett not having played yet because of a toe injury, it appears so.
10. Maurice Jones-Drew is very close to ready. He played 13 plays Saturday after playing seven the week before – that’s not a lot, but for an eight-year veteran, it’s enough. Bradley said Saturday Jones-Drew’s not quite satisfied with where he is, but it’s evident he’s getting closer. He has been effective in each of his two preseason appearances and there remains little reason to think he won’t be full-go come September 8.
11. Luke Joeckel should be ready for the opener. The rookie right tackle started Saturday and played less than a lot of the other starters. Look for that to reverse in Atlanta Thursday. He appeared rusty early, but there also appears little question he’ll be full for the opener.
12. Matt Scott probably makes the team. That has been growingly evident, but his entry as the No. 2 quarterback Saturday may further solidify his chances. With Gabbert’s thumb making his status for the opener at least somewhat uncertain, the Jaguars probably will keep three quarterbacks. It seems increasingly likely that Scott is the third guy.