It might have been a “game week” of preparation but even as hard as they try, the players and coaches admit the third preseason game is different than the rest but still nothing like the regular season. “Fact finding” is how Head Coach Gus Bradley characterized his goal for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. The Jaguars, like the rest of the league, will have to cut their roster to 75 players next week. Deciding who to keep and who to let go will be more difficult than in the past. This group of 90 players is the most talented under Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell, making the decisions more difficult. The decisions can play themselves out more clearly under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football.
“We’ll put some guys in different positions just to see how they handle a heightened environment,” Bradley said this week. “It might be how they handle going against a one. We need to find out more information about some guys. We’re excited. I think it has been a good week, I’m glad we had this dress rehearsal.”
Much of the attention will be on the left side of the offensive line where Kelvin Beachum will start at tackle and play “15 to 25 snaps” according to Bradley. Although the coaches have praised Luke Joeckel for his play at that spot all through training camp and in the first two-preseason games, Bradley said the “fact finding” would start with Beachum and Joeckel on the left side. What has impressed the head coach is how Joeckel has taken the competition seriously and hasn’t said a word. He’s just worked at both positions and excelled in the first three weeks. No complaining.
“You would think that and I think you would say, ‘Okay we need to talk to him and help him through this,’ but I have not talked to him,” Gus explained. “He has been unbelievable. I mean, just in passing and the way he says his mindset is, I know we all appreciate that and it tells us a lot about him. You know, you wonder, but I am not surprised. We saw that mindset in the OTAs and he has carried it through, so I have not talked to him much about it at all and he has been handling it great.”
That’s not to say things have been all hearts and roses for the Jaguars during training camp. The first day in pads wasn’t much, “Not to our standard,” Bradley said at the time. The second day of practice against the Tampa Bay Bucs, “Wasn’t sharp,” according to the head coach. And even this week the “No Repeat Friday” where they concentrate on not making the same mistakes and running through multiple formations and plays without “repeat” wasn’t what he was looking for.
“Today, we did not really do a good job,” Bradley said on Friday. “It was not up to our standard. It just was not as sharp. I guess that’s what a test run is all about, to create that standard of what a No Repeat Friday is all about. It’s a good lesson.”
What’s strange about the preseason is how the coaches are looking at different players in different situations. Last week against the Bucs all they wanted to see from Julius Thomas was his run blocking. So no real “targets” and it seemed like he wasn’t even in the game. This week could be different but it all depends on the situations presented in the game.
About 40% of every NFL roster turns over each year so it won’t be surprising if there are twenty or so new names wearing the Jaguars uniform starting on September 11th. A chance to play in front of a national television audience is always motivation. So guys will shine, some won’t rise to the occasion.
“I think to see how guys respond, the heightened environment of Sunday Night Football is really good in preseason because it does give us a chance to see how these guys respond to it,” Bradley noted.
Sending young players in the game where the spotlight is on has helped Gus evaluate who can step up once the regular season starts. That’s why he likes the “big game” environment created in the preseason.
“It’s a heightened environment so now what? It’s okay to be excited about it, now acknowledge it and let’s go. So we do talk about it just so they have the understanding that you’re going to be playing and every game’s a great big game but sometimes when it’s heightened like this more, guys can get out of whack.”
After dominating early in training camp, Dante Fowler has run into some fierce competition, something the coaching staff has appreciated.
“Dante, as we all know, the physical attributes that he has,” Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash said this week. “The thing that we are challenging Dante on now is being a pro, being great in the classroom, taking it from the classroom to the field, studying more tape on his own. We’re really pressuring him right now to be a pro.”
One thing Wash hopes to see more of is the physical nature Jalen Ramsey brings to the cornerback position. Early in the game Ramsey stuck his nose in a pile to make a tackle. He says it’s how he’s always played the game. Wash took notice immediately.
“We were excited just how physical he played on that snap,” Wash noted this week. “He did not come up there and try to dodge the offensive lineman, and got himself in position to make the play. He’s not scared to put his face on people and that is something that’s important to us. We want to be known as a physical defense not only from the front seven, but our back end also.”
Game time is 8 o’clock for the nationally televised game. Channel 4 will have the pregame at 6:30 and I’ll live tweet from the game on Twitter @samkouvaris