1. How will these key Jaguar players begin the 2011 season?
Most likely, several key players will play their first game of the year today. Although Blaine Gabbert has prepared like he’ll be starting tonight, David Garrard will be returning as the leader of the first team. His back injury could become a concern for this season, but I expect he will play strongly tonight and assert himself as the top Jaguars quarterback. Although he missed a good chunk of practices and may still be feeling some rust from the long offseason, he will hopefully be sharp tonight – given the not-so-subtle, but still quiet quarterback situation in Jacksonville, nothing would help David’s confidence and the coaching staff’s faith in him. Hopefully, we see Luke McCown, as well. He’s had a pretty good training camp thus far and has the chance to justify his roster spot tonight or possibly garner some trade interest. It’s now undecided how many QB’s Jacksonville will keep on the roster, but I’m still hoping they decide to keep all three players. Having Garrard and McCown go down in the same game last year showed us how quickly things can become dire at the position. We need to have a capable backup behind Gabbert if David goes down and Todd Bouman will always be by the phone if we need him. If Gene Smith cuts one of these guys before the season, they won’t be unemployed for long. In the worst case scenario, they both should have some trade value.
The other 5 players who will most likely return/debut tonight are Marcedes Lewis, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, Matt Roth and Cecil Shorts. Of these players, Knighton and Cox are the more important ones to watch tonight. Both need to find the rythm early and Knighton has to show he’s capable of max effort on every play every showing up to camp completely out of shape again. He’ll likely look well below the form he’s capable of, but at least he’ll be seeing some action. For Derek, I think this will be a very important season. This is his third year and although he was the interception leader in his first two campaign as a Jaguar, he still hasn’t proven that he was worth the 2nd round pick the Jaguars surrendered to trade up for him. Since the Jaguars signed Drew Coleman this offseason, who looked the part of a starter last year with the Jets, there is someone who can push Derek (and Rashean, for that matter) to be better. What I want to see from DE Matt Roth is that he is capable of being the starter on opening day, that he has solid pass rush skills, and is comfortable playing in the 4-3 defensive system.
From Marcedes, I want to see just one tiny little flash in this game, to show all the nay sayers, that he is not a one year wonder and is ready to prove it on a weekly basis. And Cecil Shorts? If he is really as good as many eyewitnesses say (like ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky and the Times Union’s Tania Ganguli) , I hope offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter only uses him in limited, small roles in the preseason to keep him hidden from opponents.
2. Atlanta Falcons – a familiar opponent
The Falcons are the only preseason opponents this year, who are on the schedule in the regular season, in a primetime showdown on Thursday Night Football in December. The two teams are very familiar with each other, as the two head coaches, Mike Smith and Jack Del Rio, worked together on Baltimore’s 2001 Super Bowl defense. The Jaguars once again hosted a “co-scrimmage” with the Falcons earlier this week, giving both squads a chance to get some reps against a live and less familiar opponent than their own teammates. There are still a few ex-Jaguars on the roster, who were once major contributors in Jacksonville and are now important cogs for the Falcons. In fact, all three former Jags – LB Mike Peterson, CB Brian Williams, and LS Joey Zelenka – got contract extensions this summer. Because the two team will meet in the regular season this year, I think they’ll make an effort to hide a few of their secrets. With more starters on both squads than we saw last week, I think we will get a better look of how ready (or not ready) the Jaguars are for the regular season.
3. Boost the ticket sales.
Let’s face it, ticket sales will be a story to watch for the Jaguars in 2011 – again. Although the preseason games will be televised, the regular season games will be much, much more difficult to spare from blackouts. Last week’s final score and basically the entire second half was pretty ugly to watch and I don’t think the game contributed much to solving this ticket problem. That’s why the Jaguars and especially the starters, must put on a strong and competitive performance. They got to start winning the hearts of the those who have doubts about this team, even if it is only the preseason. I’m not saying they have to win, but an inspiring performance could them gather more momentum. I want to see strong performance from the QBs and especially from Garrard. I want to see Gabbert flash more of his potential of great things to come. I want to see the receivers show something special (no more drops please!). And I want to see the defense as a whole inspiring the fans and justifying the tremendous amounts of guaranteed money the Jaguars spent this offseason. These are the issues that will be in the spotlight on Friday, and a good, strong performance from these units could add some serious goodwill from the fans and media and boost ticket sales for the last push before the regular season.
– Zoltan Paksa