ATLANTA – Here’s what we learned from the Jaguars’ 20-16 victory over the Falcons in the 2013 preseason finale at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Thursday:
1. The Jaguars can win. Yes, it was only preseason, and the result will be forgotten by most almost immediately – even by players and coaches. But Head Coach Gus Bradley talked afterward about any game being a test, and wanting to pass that test. The Jaguars won for the first time under Bradley Thursday, and they needed some big defensive stops to do it. Although, you can’t call it critical and it wouldn’t have been a fatal blow if they had lost, winning is always, well, better than not.
2. Pass rush could still be a need. The Jaguars spent the preseason looking for pass rush, and the only fair grade to give the area Thursday is an incomplete. The Jaguars’ starters didn’t play long, and the Falcons opted to not play 19 players. Still, the rush has to get better: no Jaguars defensive player except defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks has stood out as a consistent disrupter this preseason, and it’s difficult to ask a defensive tackle to provide the bulk of the up-front pressure from a defensive line. There needs to be pressure from the edge and that hasn’t happened yet.
3. There’s a reason Henne and Gabbert were fighting for the starting job. People clamored for Matt Scott all preseason, and there was talk early of Mike Kafka pushing for the job. Scott struggled Thursday and while Kafka threw a late touchdown pass, it remained clear that Henne and Gabbert are the two best quarterbacks on the roster by a pretty significant margin.
4. Andre Branch is probably on the bubble. Branch may make the roster, but the second-year defensive end struggled in pass rush throughout much of the preseason. He’s a second-round selection, and he has talent, so he’s tough to release, but more was wanted from him in the preseason.
5. LaRoy Reynolds has stamina . . . The rookie free agent linebacker has spent the offseason showing up on video, and likely played his way onto the roster long ago. He started on Thursday, and played the entire game, leading the Jaguars with 11 tackles. He also defensed a pass.
6. . . . and so does Dan Gerberry. He’s a significantly longer shot to make the team than Reynolds, and chances are he won’t be on the 53-man roster, but with Brad Meester and Will Rackley out, Mike Brewster and Gerberry were the only healthy centers on the roster Thursday. The Jaguars played Mike Brewster at guard, and as a result, Gerberry played the whole game at center.
7. Will Blackmon could help . . . quickly. The Jaguars have been looking for a reliable third corner after veteran Alan Ball and rookie Dwayne Gratz. Marcus Trufant and Mike Harris have been competing at the nickel position, but neither has played much on the outside in training camp or preseason. Blackmon was acquired off waivers Tuesday and helped immediately, defending two passes and intercepting one. He could be the depth the Jaguars need there. Blackmon also opened on punt returns and could play that role early.
8. Demetrius McCray could push for playing time. If Blackmon doesn’t move into the top reserve corner role, McCray could make a push. The rookie quietly had a solid training camp and he wasn’t quiet Thursday. He had two passes defensed and was credited for a fourth-down sack during the Jaguars’ fourth-quarter goal-line stand.
9. Denard Robinson is going to play some running back. He seems to slight to play full-time running back, and maybe he is. But the rookie from Michigan has gotten plenty of work at running back during the preseason. He looks better than many expected running inside, and clearly has a burst to score from anywhere if he gets a lane.
10. Cecil Shorts III is ready for the regular season. The third-year veteran wide receiver was the Jaguars’ best player during OTAs and early in training camp. He missed two weeks with a calf injury, and wanted to knock the rust off Thursday. He played, and while he caught just one pass for five yards, he got the work he needed and should be ready for the opener.
11. Jordan Todman is the star of the preseason. He may not be guaranteed to make the roster, but he’s sure close. The first-year veteran rushed for more than 100 yards in the third preseason game and added 60 more yards on nine carries on Thursday night. He has shown a knack for breaking past the first line of defense, and has speed to turn the corner and make big yardage. Because of his development, the running backs look significantly deeper than last season.
12. It’s time for the regular season. The preseason was productive. This is not a space where you’re going to read a lot of, “Cut-out-the-preseason talk.” It has its place, and had its place for the Jaguars this season. Todman played well, and tight end Allen Reisner played his way into a role. But enough, already. It’s time, and the second halves can be a tough watch. That’s over now. Now, they count. On to the regular season.
PHOTO GALLERY OF JAX VS ATL