Jaguars: 4 to watch 4
1. Does the left side of the offensive line work? When he named Kelvin Beachum as the starting left tackle, Head Coach Gus Bradley admitted that it really wasn’t a competition. He awarded Beachum the job for his “body of work.” Yes, Beachum was an elite left tackle for the Steelers before his injury in October of last year. His rehab has been long and while he’s approved to go 100% he’s only played a few series in the preseason. His conditioning will be in question as the opener drags on. Beachum admitted it’s “a marriage” when it comes to the relationship between him and Luke Joeckel at left guard. Joeckel had performed well in the first two preseason games at tackle but was also given kudos by the coaching staff for the way he approached the move to guard. It might take a while but here’s to ‘hoping’ that the coaches aren’t ‘hoping’ this works out. Perhaps they’ve seen something that convinced them it’s the best combination available.
2. Did they spend money in the right place? Acquiring Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson through free agency seemed to create an immediate upgrade for the defense. Gus Bradley likes to use a nine-player rotation on the defensive line so Jackson being fresh throughout the game, and a healthy Sen’Derrick Marks also only playing 30-40 snaps should keep them fresh. Any kind of push up the middle from those two will put pressure on the passer along with Jared Odrick. They also are pretty stout when it comes to sheer size in the middle with Roy Miller and Abry Jones so they should be effective against the run. Gipson is the kind of free safety Bradley wants. One that can cover from side to side, is a ball hawk and isn’t afraid to hit. Gipson’s confidence and leadership will also go a long way in the defensive backfield.
3. Can they run the ball? Which leads to the free agent acquisition of Chris Ivory. Thought to be a thumper, Ivory has shown speed to get to the edge and an ability to quickly get his shoulders turned and head up field. He’ll bring plenty of punch behind his pads. Quarterback Blake *Bortles called him a “ball of muscle” in the preseason, but he also has speed that might catch some defenders off guard. If T.J. Yeldon is a classic “run from color” ball carrier who does well in a zone blocking scheme, Ivory can be a very effective “gap” runner, especially in short yardage. Brandon Linder at center will be the key to the offensive line getting a push for the running game. Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson says Linder has adapted well to his new position, and brings that “physical presence” that they need up front. No question Linder is a tough guy. They missed him last year after his injury.
4. Can the rush Aaron Rodgers and keep him contained? After sitting out a year with a torn ACL, Dante Fowler is being counted on to provide an edge rush for the Jaguars, something they haven’t had in a while. In fact, the only guy you can compare Fowler to who’s ever worn a Jaguars uniform is Tony Brackens. If you’re a Gator fan and haven’t paid attention to Fowler since he left Gainesville, you might not recognize him. He’s completely changed his body style and is faster and stronger than ever. He dominated early in training camp but ran into a wall, literally, starting with the practices against Tampa Bay. The coaches challenged him to be a “pro,” study more tape and take the mental part of the game as seriously as he does the physical side. Between Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, and Myles Jack the Jaguars have plenty of speed to get to the passer. Part of their problem with Rodgers will be what he can do outside of the pocket when he’s flushed. Getting to him and getting him on the ground will be the key to keeping the Packers offense in check.