JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars open the preseason Thursday night in New England against the Patriots. Here are the five big things I’ll be watching for in the game:
1. How does Cam Robinson do against the Patriots defensive linemen and outside linebackers? The rookie figures to play a good number of snaps at left tackle. Doug Marrone has consistently said that he isn't going to simply hand a starting job to any player, but considering the rookie is listed as a co-starter along with Josh Wells, it is easy to surmise that Robinson is expected to earn the starting spot. It would be advantageous to play him against the starters on Thursday (or as many experienced players as the Patriots trot out there).
2. Does Leonard Fournette continue to look the part? The rookie first round pick is the most intriguing player in camp for the Jaguars. He is expected to be a tone-setter for the Jaguars offensive approach, which this year will rely on a power running game. Like his fellow rookie Robinson, Fournette is listed as a co-starter with Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Fournette said training camp got easier when the pads went on. He also had an impressive goal line run in practice against New England. All eyes will be on #27 to see how he performs in his first NFL preseason game.
3. How will Blake Bortles Play? This is, of course, the biggest question of the season for the Jaguars. Will Bortles look like the quarterback who struggled with interceptions last year and the guy who threw five picks in a training camp practice earlier this month? Or will he look like a fourth-year pro who is confident in the offensive system and comfortable in his progressions? It won't be the be-all-and-end-all judgment about Bortles, but if he looks good, it will go a long way to distancing the quarterback from that awful Saturday night performance early in camp.
4. Can the Jaguars generate any kind of pass rush? They won't be going against Tom Brady, who reportedly won't play Thursday, but the Jaguars still need to show that they can get to the quarterback. The burden is particularly on Yannick Ngokoue and Dante Fowler, who are both competing for playing time at the same position this year. The new system is more of a traditional 4-3 defense with a "big" end, Calais Campbell, starting on one side, and a "fast" end on the other. That's the position Ngokoue and Fowler play. Not just sacks, but pressure on the quarterback will be important.
5. Even with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks held out, do the Patriots carve up the Jaguars defense? New England will use Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brisset at quarterback on Thursday night. Both have had success in the regular season filling in for an injured or suspended Tom Brady in the past. Without Cooks or Gronkowski...and maybe without Juliian Edelman, the Patriots certainly aren't as potent an offense. If the Jaguars defense is going to be a top unit in the league, this would be a great time to show that the Jags starters can dominate a team that includes a number of backups.
News4Jax will have reaction from the locker room after the game and commentary from San Kouvaris on News4Jax.com.