Of all the preseason games, the third one is the most critical for most teams. It’s the game where the starters play the most and given a chance, players who want to make the team throughout the rest of the roster have to show something in this game.
“From the players I think the first team to go out there and play at least a half and to go out there and put it together and be able to come out of the locker room and play another portion of the game is important,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said leading up to Friday’s contest with Detroit. For the Jaguars, it’ll be an amount of time they’re playing and not necessarily a set number of plays.
That’s why Bradley thought it was important to name a starter at Center before this game to give the winner of that competition some time to work with the other four guys along the line. Stefan Wisniewski has 4 years behind him in the league so getting him into a rhythm with his new teammates is a high priority. And even though he’s out of the starting lineup, Bradley says Luke Bowanko is athletic enough to play pretty much anywhere on the line, even left tackle. “You think right, but he’s athletic enough to play left so he’s been working there as well. He’s taking extra reps before practice, working hard.”
Eleven different players won’t see any action against the Lions, including Toby Gerhart who’s out with an abdominal strain. “He’ll be ready to go for the regular season, ” Bradley said. “We’re just glad it’s not a sports hernia or anything more serious that would keep him out.” Gerhart seems to have solidified his position on the roster by being an effective short-yardage back for third and 4th down situations. A lingering foot problem last season kept him in check.
The team did put Auerllous Benn on injured reserve with a broken collarbone. It’s the third time Benn has been on IR in his career; the other two seasons it was knee injuries. “I told the coaches I know how to deal with this. I’ll be back.”
In game one against the Steelers, the Jaguars had numerous two tight end sets ready and kept with them even though Julius Thomas left the game early. In week two, they went to an offensive plan with three wide outs, preferring to keep the two tight end sets under wraps for the regular season. That might have changed Blake Bortles stats but it didn’t change his effectiveness. Look for Bortles to take charge in this game, knowing he’ll be in the game for a while with the other first teamers. His comfort level with this offense is obvious, coming to the line of scrimmage with an idea of who’s going to be open and showing a willingness to check down when his first two reads are covered. “This year, no matter the situation, we have a play for that,” Bortles said summing up his third offense in three years. “I’m concentrating on owning this offense and making it work.”
Bortles, like any quarterback, has plays he likes better than others, but overall, the offense new Offensive Coordinator Greg Olsen have brought to the Jaguars has put the quarterback in the best position to succeed.
“We like his toughness, his smarts, his arm, his willingness to get better, all of it,” Bradley said about Bortles.
On defense, look for the Jaguars to concentrate on keeping the big “explosive” plays to a minimum. With Calvin Johnson providing the best test to the defensive backfield, it’ll be a good measure of where they’re at on the learning curve of playing together.
With the first cut from 90 to 75 players looking on Tuesday of next week, the end of the third and all of the fourth quarter will be very competitive as guys are trying to make the team. Special teams is where players can lock up one of the 53 spots and the more they can do, the more valuable they are. Players like Thurston Armbrister and Tandon Doss have made enough of an impact as position players to add to their special team prowess as well.
The final cut to 53 will come on September 4th the day after the final preseason game against Washington. That game can be seen live on Channel 4 starting at 7:30. This week’s pregame show is also at 7:30 Friday night.