[Editors Note: Seriously spend time with this article. No one anywhere puts as much time and thought into a game as Zoltan. He is simply the best pre-game analyst on the web. Read the article and decide. I guarantee, you will see the game different and more informed after reading this. See you at the stadium - Terry]
Saturday we will see a small preview of the upcoming season in the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. Although usually the 3rd preseason game is the most important match prior to the season, I think this year it will be different. With all the respect to Tampa Bay, the Jaguars can really see how ready they are in the preparation for the season in this game. Why? Miami is a legit playoff contender; has a real good chance to win the -all of sudden-very tough AFC East. Against them you can see how good or bad we are prepared for the upcoming season. I found 3 points where an average Jaguars fan must look for on Saturday:
Battle of the lines:
I mean both of them. Last time Miami visited the Jags (On Week 14; starting the 4 game losing streak/meltdown for Jacksonville); and they dominated to line of scrimmage battles. They ran the ball when they wanted to, they gave perfect protection to Chad Henne; and they stopped the Jaguars running game. This weekend, the Jaguars will face an even stronger D-line; than it was a couple of months ago. For example the 1stround choice of the Dolphins; Jared Odrick is playing very good at DE. He had a good 1st game against Tampa last week; so I expect that he will give a challenge to the interior of the Jaguar O-line. On the other end Kendall Longford is a very promising young player on the rise. At Nose Tackle, Miami has Randy Starks -who was moved to this position from DE; making the place for Odrick(another smart move by Bill Parcells). Randy Starks has a backup; Paul Soliai too; who had an exceptional 1stpreseason game. The Dolphins are good judges of talent, consider this; the Dolphins have 2 players on their roster- Tony McDaniel at DE; and Montavius Stanley as their 3rd NT; who were cut from the Jaguars roster. At the pass rushers, Miami had major changes. Jason Taylor and Joey Porter are both gone; 2nd year player Cameron Wake (who finished last year with 5.5 sacks); and 2nd round pick Koa Misi will rush David Garrard. Last week the Jaguars missed both Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton and although Jordan Black and Paul McQuistan did an OK job; we can agree; that we want to see last year’s 1st and 2nd round choice there. Terry does not trust Eben Britton, so we must see him perform pretty soon or he wil not be ready for the season opening game. Well It looks like Eugene will take back his place at LT; but Britton (although head coach Jack Del Rio said; he is expected to coming back practicing soon too) will miss this game too. So expect Jordan Black starting at RT. In the interior O-line it seems we have 2 starters set: Brad Meester; and Uche Nwaneri. Now the other guard position is up to grabs; because (ex- Dolphin) Justin Smiley is still battling with an injury; so Kynan Forney can grab it this week. Meanwhile Vince Manuwai is (“thanks” to his over 3 million $ salary for this year) on the brink to being cut. I hope GM Gene Smith will keep him; because I agree with those who say, Justin Smiley with his helath issues is everything but a good insurance policy. But I can say another reason we might need Vinny: remember 2008…
On the other hand, it looks like the Jaguars will –sadly again- miss both Aaron Kampman and Tyson Alualu. The good news is Austen Lane joined the team this week so the 5thround pick will give more options at DE. And we can expect a new starter at DT: Leger Douzable. He played well against Philadelphia; so he and and the best D-lineman of the team; Terrance Knighton (Weight problems? What weight problems?…); will be the starting tackle tandem for this game. At the ends I expect to see Derrick Harvey and Larry Hart once again. On the 1st game we saw no pass rush against the Eagles first team. Larry Hart looked lost. Derrick Harvey did have a nice sack and forced fumble. The sad thing is- it was against Michael Vick and the Eagles 2nd team. But this time it will be much tougher; The Dolphins offensive line is much physical; than the Eagles’ one we faced last week.
Miami lost 1 player (Justin Smiley- who is now a Jaguar- who struggles all camp long with injury…) and drafted John Jerry in the 3rd round to replace Smiley at left guard. He had a small knee injury against Tampa, but I expect him to play. The other guard is a new face; Richie Ingonito. He is a decent guard if he can stay healthy and and doesn’t create a bad atmosphere is the locker room. Remember last year how Derrick Harvey didn’t have a chance against LT Jake Long? Now he can show what he learned from Joe Cullen this year. That battle is something Jaguars fans must concentrate on: Derrick Harvey vs. Jake Long. If Harvey can produce a real pass rush there; he can do it against almost everyone in the league. That is a big match up right there. The other tackle Vernon Carey is a classic right tackle: limited lateral agility and quickness, but good girth and strength. Sound like a perfect opponent for Larry Hart to show something in pass rush. At center they put Joe Berger; because Jake Grove had production problems lately. That area might be a weakness for Miami; and we can expect Terrance Knighton to use that to push (or maybe even collapse) the pocket. I must mention one more person: Lousaka Polite; the FB. He has a major role in the Miami running game with Ronnie Brown. Blocking him will be a tough challenge to the defensive line.
Overall, it is just as Terry said, a very physical challenge even in preseason.
The State of the Pass defense:
Although Miami is considered as a running team; QB Chad Henne (And his backups; Chad Pennington; Tyler Thigpen and maybe Pat White) still have enough targets to test the Jaguars pass defense. Dolphins upgraded their receiver position trading away Ted Ginn; and trading for legit Nr. 1 wideout Brandon Marshall. Marshall is a Top 10 WR; stopping him will be a big challenge for the defense. Although he and Brian Hartline- the other starting WR- had a terrible game last week- 1 catch; 3 dropped pass- don’t expect that performance to be repeated. The Jaguars pass defense struggled against the Eagles; especially defending against passes of 15-20 yards. Other than Marshall and Hartline, there is Anthony Fassano; a TE Bill Parcells drafted when he was in Dallas; and brought with him to Miami. He is a reliable target; and if the Jags focus only on the 2 WRs he can once again do enough harm in the secondary. Keep an eye on him. The backup WRs are also quite good. Davon Bess and Greg Camarillo played quite well last December. They will serve a good job to test the backup DBs (Starks; Carey, Considine; Nelson to name a few). The position battles for backups (and if Anthony Smith plays well; he can secure his spot as the other starting safety) at the secondary can easily be decided in this game; especially at safety.
Bill Parcells vs. Gene Smith- the battle of the draft picks:
Well Bill Parcells has the reputation of a mastermind when it comes to (re)building the team.Gene Smith is a GM on the rise(?) in the same category. We can see once again how the draft picks can compete against each other.Parcells has 1 yearyear advantage in this process; and it is might be the edge over the Jaguars. In his first draft (2008); he brought a franchise LT (Jake Long at 1/1;) and QB (Chad Henne); plus 2 DEs (Philip Merling, who is now injured; and Kendall Longford) Parcells drafted a pretty impressive class. Meanwhile the 2008 draft class of the Jaguars is maybe the worst in franchise history…
Last year Parcells continued to rebuild the roster- in that year he focused on the secondary. Cornerbacks Vontae Davis (1st); Sean Smith (2nd) are all starters. And 5th round pick FS, Chris Clemons might be the starter there as well. 1 draft –almost the whole secondary is changed! And that draft produced Brian Hartline (4thround) as well. The only pick who might be turns out to be a bad one is Pat White from that class He was a second round pick; and he was drafted to be the player the Dolphins have running their Wildcat formations. But that experiment failed; and some suggest that he might be even cut when the final rosters will be announced. Meanwhile Gene Smith produced 5 starters the same year. (The 2 offensive tackles; Knighton; Cox and Mike Thomas). From them Monroe; Knighton and Thomas are considered to be long term locks. Derek Cox and Eben Britton still raise some question marks. The other 4 players –especially Rashard Jennings; Jarrett Dillard and Zach Miller- are great choices. From them Zach Miller could be a major contributor; but his foot injury consistently forces him to the sidelines. He will not see action this week; and maybe he will be missed much longer then that.
Now let’s see the ’10 class. I wrote about Odrick and Misi; the Dolphins first 2 pics. They are healthy and contributing. Meanwhile Jaguars had to place D’Anthony Smith on IR; and Tyson Alualu is falling behind because of his injury. The Dolphins have another starter from this class John Jerry at guard and Reshad Jones is a backup after Chris Clemmons. And let’s not forget Nolan Carroll; another 5th round selection; who can easily win the nickel corner starting job.
Meanwhile so far the Jaguars can be satisfied with Deji Karim and Scotty McGee and what they produced on the returning game. The only other player who saw action, Larry Hart although started; struggled and was easily injured against Philadelphia. The edge is most clearly on Miami side in the 2010 draft issue. And I can say; injuries are one of the biggest obstacles for this team right now. From the two lines; 3 starters will miss the second preseason game -which I think is a better test then the 3rdone will be. In Tyson Alualu’s case doesn’t matter how great of a work ethic he has; these weeks are crucial to be in camp. With him and Aaron Kampman still out; I have serious worries about the defensive line…
(Update : On Thursday Tyson Alualu; Aaron Kampman and Eben Britton returned to practice. Although Zach Miller will visit a doctor today. That can decide lot of things…)
So those are my points for the upcoming game; and what I think is important to watch for this Saturday at the opening game at Everbank Field. How the Jaguars will perform during this game will give us much accurate look about how ready they are for the season. Especially the battle of the 1st units.