Four Down Territory: Jacksonville Jaguars Host The New Orleans Saints

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 07: Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders perform in the second half of the AFC Wild Card Round game against the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field on January 7, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 07: Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders perform in the second half of the AFC Wild Card Round game against the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field on January 7, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

The NFL Preseason begins for the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints Thursday Night from TIAA Bank. This is only the second preseason meeting for both teams. The last time Jacksonville and New Orleans met in the preseason was 2012.

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone spoke with the media on Monday, talking about his time in New Orleans as an assistant coach on the Saints staff. Marrone said he had many fond memories of his time in the Big Easy and the experienced helped shape him into the head coach he is today.

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"“We came down there post [Hurricane] Katrina, and I remember my first thought process was the pictures and the coverage on TV didn’t really do justice to what happened down there. The resiliency of the people, not just in New Orleans – but of that region – to come back was amazing.” Marrone said.“I give credit to [New Orleans Saints Executive Vice President and General Manager] Mickey Loomis and [New Orleans Saints] [Head] Coach [Sean] Payton. We actually went out in the community and tried to build the community. The thing is that we didn’t go out there and take a picture with a shovel with the team and have the media out there and say, ‘OK, we’re done’ and then got on buses and to back. We actually went to work.”"

It’s that type of workman-like mentality he has instilled in his current team. While the Jaguars are a dominating defense with big personalities on both sides of the ball, there is still a hardworking team that comes to practice every day and works on getting better, becoming the best it can be.

While the Saints won’t play many of their starters for anything more than a series or two, it will be a chance for the Jaguars to work with a team that could be a Super Bowl contender. Facing an offense that had one of the best running games in the NFL last season will help Jacksonville improve its run defense which ranked 21st in the league last season.

Marrone credits Payton for helping him learn about coaching and the game of football from the sidelines. He taught him how to communicate with his players and become more than an “X’s and O’s” guy.

"“I learned a lot from Sean. Sean is probably one of the best communicators I have ever been around. Obviously, he is extremely intelligent. I thought it was interesting, initially, when we came in there and put together a staff, I think we were the youngest staff in the league at that time. Sean is very organized and very good with personnel,” said. Marrone.“I think for me Sean helped me the most with communication amongst the staff. I had run some of the meetings, and he really helped me along the way of building a staff, what he looked for in a staff, and things of that nature. I owe a great deal to Sean.”"

This will be the first “live” game for the Jaguars since their 24-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Title Game. Here are four things I will watch with anticipation on Thursday night.

Backup Quarterback Play

Blake Bortles figures to play a series or two on Thursday. That means Cody Kessler and Tanner Lee will be the ones taking the majority of the snaps. Kessler is the definitive backup with Lee more than likely a practice squad player. Both will have time to learn the system behind Bortles, who is the clear-cut No. 1 starter.

DJ Chark

DJ Chark has looked ultra impressive the past two weeks and figures to get plenty of snaps this game and in the preseason.

The thing I like about Chark is his play against both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. His size is a bus for this passing offense. How will the rookie from LSU do in the red zone and how will he look against other defensive backs he has yet to face.

The Linebackers

These next four weeks will help determine who fills the final starting spot at linebacker.

Leon Jacobs has played well in training camp, passing Blair Brown. There are others in the mix, which means it is a healthy competition. At the beginning of OTAs, I told several friends here in town I thought Jacobs would win the job, even though he was a seventh-round draft pick.

I’m sticking to that prediction.

Any Surprises?

There are always a surprise or two in training camp and during preseason games.

Corey Grant, Keelan Cole, Allen Hurns. They all made lasting impressions and made the team as undrafted rookie free agents. Which players do the same thing this season?

Tre Herndon has looked impressive at defensive back. Wide receiver Allen Lazard has flashed skills at times. It should make for an interesting four weeks.