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Sam Kouvaris: First impressions of Jaguars 'they're better'

Jacksonville makes strides in preseason opener against Patriots

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – All you get in the first preseason game is first impressions. Sometimes they’re false and other times they start a trend.  For the Jaguars, you hope the first impressions against the New England Patriots are some indication of how the season might go. They scored points. They made some stops. Blake Bortles continued to improve and new guys stepped up.

“They’re a 10-6 team waiting on quarterback play,” one scout said in the offseason of the Jaguars. That means they have some talent on the roster that can be enhanced or negated by the play of Bortles. Blake was 3 of 5 for 16 yards with a drop in his one quarter of play against the Patriots. He didn’t look spectacular but he did find the open guy, even checking down to the third receiver. What they’re looking for is improvement, and the Jaguars are getting that two weeks into the 2017 preseason from their quarterback. 

“I had him going in there for the first quarter with the players,” head coach Doug Marrone said. “We had a bunch of good work all week against the Patriots. He took the majority of the snaps [during the week of practice]. It was the plan coming in and we just stuck with the plan.”

If there’s a theme to a Marrone-run training camp it’s consistency. He felt like that showed against the Patriots.

“The first thing we were looking for is the discipline,” he explained. “In the first half, we only had one penalty as a team. Special teams, take a look over it, then obviously trying to create a run game and be physical. I think when you get that big return, those are the things that will kind of get you, so I will talk about to them offensively about in there.”

After getting in the game behind Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon, Leonard Fournette was impressive on every snap. When they drafted him Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin told him “get ready to get the ball in the end zone son.” And added to the media, “It sets a tone. We know we’re going to run it.  They know we’re going to run it.” And run it they did. Fournette carried it four straight times in one sequence, showing power, speed, vision and that “wiggle” that successful NFL backs have.

In the “they know we’re going to run it” part, Fournette, on fourth and 1, broke through for a first down. Late in the second quarter he was back in the game and near the goal line had three straight carries, scoring his first preseason TD. Hard to be “better than advertised” when you’re the 4th pick in the draft but Fournette, so far, is everything you could hope for from a featured back.

“Good. I thought he looked good,” Marrone added when asked about Fournette. "I think he has to run a little bit with his pads lower at times. Obviously, you can see the power that he has.”

A long TD pass from Chad Henne to rookie WR Keelan Cole, 97 yards, was a surprise only if you hadn’t been to practice. Cole is a rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan who has speed and has been getting deep for the first two weeks of training camp. He’s making a case to make the team as the sixth wide receiver. The impressive thing about the play, and noticeable throughout the first half, was the time the quarterbacks, both Bortles and Henne, had to throw. 

Using Cam Robinson, their second-round pick from Alabama as their starter at left tackle and Josh Wells at right tackle for an injured Jeremy Parnell, they looked like a pretty tight unit. Patrick Omameh, Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann were solid in the middle. If they’re looking for the “five best offensive linemen,” as head coach Doug Marrone said, they’ve gotten a good look at five candidates in the first game.

As in any preseason exhibition game, the second half is all about the coaches getting to see players in “live” action. We already know Corey Grant is fast, so it was no surprise when he ripped of a 79-yard TD run.  Branden Allen is still a solid backup quarterback, but Doug Marrone has already told us that Chad Henne is behind Blake. 

So my first impression is they’re a bit better. They run better and they’re deeper than they’ve been. But to quote Marrone, again, they’ve “got a long way to go.”