The Miami Dolphins are set to host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a few hours in the key third preseason game of the year. This game typically features game planning, adjustments, and the starters for both teams much more than the previous two games or the final game next week. This is the dress rehearsal contest for the regular season, which means we should get a better chance to see what the Dolphins will be this year.
It also means we will see what the Jaguars will be this season. After a disappointing 2018 season, the Jaguars come back this year with a new quarterback and high expectations. Is this a team that could move into the AFC elite? Will they be able to shake off the Blake Bortles era? To get answers to those questions and more, I turned to Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country, SB Nation’s Jaguars team site.
1. Obviously, the biggest change for the Jaguars is the acquisition of Nick Foles, moving on from the Blake Bortles era. How refreshing has that change been and how has Foles looked in camp? As he makes his preseason debut this week, what should we expect to see from him?
It’s certainly refreshing to have somebody who remotely resembles an NFL quarterback and who can actually throw a spiral on a consistent basis. But in all seriousness, Foles has looked relatively sharp throughout the duration of training camp, and when he does make a mistake, he finds ways to work with his teammates and correct them. I think the majority of Jaguars fans (other than the Bortles truthers) share the opinion I have that Foles is a clear upgrade over Bortles, but still has a lot to prove himself. The term I’ve often used to describe the feeling I have about Foles is “cautious optimism.”
We are yet to see Foles throw a pass in a Jaguars uniform against an opposing NFL team, so Thursday night will be interesting. Jacksonville’s coaching staff has used some serious caution so far this preseason when it comes to Foles and other starters. So I would only expect to see him play for a series or two despite the third preseason game typically being the game where starters play the majority of the game. What I would like to see from him is a good command of the offense, accurate passes and the ability to move the offense downfield--something that sounds so simple, but would be a huge relief after witnessing last season’s sorry excuse of an offensive unit. And of course, no injuries!
2. The strength of the Jaguars should be the defense - but they were disappointing last year, especially after the “Sacksonville” 2017 season. Will that pass rush be back in 2019?
It’s interesting. The defense was actually really good last season overall, but the sacks and turnovers that the unit thrived on in 2017 -- a big reason why the team made a run to the AFC Championship in 2017-- was indeed lacking. Jacksonville ranked second in points allowed, second against the pass and fifth in total defense in 2018. But had just 37 sacks (22nd) and mustered just 17 takeaways (tied for 22nd as well). I would expect both of those numbers to improve. But regarding the pass rush specifically, the Jags added rookie Josh Allen in the offseason who is going to cause havoc when he is in the game. Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus all return as well. Taven Bryan, Abry Jones, Dawuane Smoot and others will all rotate in. Any combination of those guys is scary. So, yes I think “Sacksonville” makes its return in 2019.
3. Where are the concerns for the Jaguars heading to the season?
The tight end position is razor thin. The Jaguars signed Geoff Swain in the offseason and drafted rookie Josh Oliver out of San Jose State in the third round. Those guys are expected to play big roles in two tight end sets. However, both are question marks when healthy, and both are currently dealing with injuries right now Elsewhere, the linebacker group is the biggest concern on defense. Telvin Smith - a Pro Bowler and second team All-Pro selection in 2017 -- decided to take a hiatus from football this season and will sit out the year. His replacement, rookie third-round pick Quincy Williams, is dealing with a knee injury. Myles Jack leads the group from the middle and will be solid, but outside of him it gets really iffy. There is also a new starting safety duo of Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson that I am interested to see play.
4. Although this is the dress rehearsal game and the starters are expected to play longer this week. How are the rookies looking and who are the depth players on offense and defense who Dolphins fans will not know, but will have an impact late in the game?
In terms of rookies, Quincy Williams, Josh Oliver and Jawaan Taylor are yet to play in a preseason game. Williams and Oliver won’t be ready until the regular season. Williams, who is the brother of New York Jets rookie Quinnen Williams, was progressing really nicely and turning heads in training camp prior to the knee injury. Oliver has a chance to eventually become the No. 1 tight end. Those injuries could hurt their development, though. Meanwhile, first round pick Josh Allen hasn’t shown up much on the stat sheet the first two games, but has shown the ability to impact the game in other ways. He should be considered as a real contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Defensive tackle Dontavius Russell is another rookie who has flashed at times. Gardner Minshew II, out of Washington State, has started both preseason games so far. He struggled in the first game, but looked much improved in the second game. He is going to back up Foles this season.
Offensively, some depth guys to look out for are wide receivers Tre McBride and C.J. Board. Both are looking to make the roster in a crowded wide receiver room. They combined for nine catches and 101 yards last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. The offensive line is another area to watch, as guys like Will Richardson, A.J. Cann and Cedrick Ogbuehi all battle for staring spots.
Defensively, look out for defensive backs Breon Borders and C.J. Reavis as they look to cement their status on the 53-man roster. Both are former undrafted free agents who have impressed at times so far during training camp and the preseason.
5. With the addition of Foles, there are some high expectations out there for the Jaguars this year - including some Super Bowl or AFC Championship Game appearance talk. What is success for the Jaguars this season? What is failure?
Yeah, as much as I want to, I am not buying the hype. This team has broken my heart one too many times over the years. I don’t think Super Bowl is a realistic expectation in Foles’ first year. Playoffs are definitely a possibility, but the schedule is brutal and the AFC South is going to be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL this season. I think the Jaguars finish somewhere between seven and nine wins. I think a nine-win season would be looked as relatively successful for the Jaguars and anything beyond that is bonus. A failure would be a losing record, and/or if the offense continues to regress even further with Foles under center. Beyond wins and losses, it’s important that the team finds ways to stay healthy throughout the season. That was a big issue in 2018.
Fantasy question...for a friend, yeah, that’s it...Will Leonard Fournette play the entire season and will he be worthy of an early draft pick?
Fournette trained hard throughout the offseason and has had a solid training camp. I can’t make any guarantees he won’t miss time this season, but he seems to be trending upward. However, he has proven throughout his college and pro careers that he is not very durable or reliable (he’s been suspended multiple times already). All in all, I do think he’s due for a bounce-back season. If it’s me, though, I am not drafting him before late second round/early third round, depending on how many backs are off the board.