JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During the summer, the thought that the Jaguars and the rest of the NFL would arrive at Kickoff Week with no question about playing games was anything but a certainty.
But here we are.
Sunday, the Jaguars will kick off the 2020 season at home against the Indianapolis Colts. There will, of course, be protocols for COVID-19, not the least of which is the capacity of TIAA Bank Field being limited to less than 17,000 fans. But we will have football.
“There’s so much that has been done from a league standpoint, from an NFLPA standpoint to get us to where we are, and you think about a couple of months ago, the anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen or occur, to be here and week one, getting ourselves ready to go and feeling obviously confident that we’ll be able to play, it’s really an amazing feat,” Marrone said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to say that earlier in the year before training camp started, but I think it’s built up.”
The league has figured out testing of players, how to conduct daily business and practice. A new guideline this year will keep players out of the building on Mondays unless there for medical treatment. Typically, players come in to meet with coaches on Monday and review game tape from the previous day’s game. There are, however, two things that have not occurred. One is an actual game. How do players from different teams interact with one another? Will we see any spread of the coronavirus through game contact? And there is the question of getting to games out of town.
“The only thing we haven’t done right now is just travel,” Marrone said. “Probably a little bit of anxiety to that because we haven’t done that before. A couple of months ago, there was a lot of talk, ’What’s going to happen?’ From both players, coaches, fans to a point where we are now, where we feel we feel very confident.”
Now, the questions are more about what kind of product the Jaguars will be able to put on the field. Since the 2019 season ended, the Jaguars have said goodbye to Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Nick Foles, Leonard Fournette, Yannick Ngakoue, and Ronnie Harrison. All starters last year. Some brought draft pick in trades that could impact the Jaguars in the long term. But for the here and now, Marrone will be sending the third-youngest team out onto the field on Sundays.
Asked what he likes about his young roster, Marrone referenced a changing culture, although not in so many words.
“I just like the communication with the players,” Marrone said. “You really don’t know until you hit (adversity) but with this team, I feel very confident in handling any type of adversity. I feel confident in a football team being able to handle anything that’s thrown at them.”
How much of a difference will it make? The Jaguars have an active roster with 24 rookies or second-year players. The offense is new, under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Only one player on the offense, DJ Chark, has made a Pro Bowl. Chark did that last season. They have a defense with few established stars. Among all players on defense, there are only two Pro Bowl appearances, one by Josh Allen and Joe Schobert.
Expectations for the season opener are not high. Las Vegas has the Jaguars as a touchdown or more underdog against the Colts. ESPN ran a simulation of the entire season and the Jaguars finished with a 3-13 record and the top pick in the draft.
- Marrone said Taven Bryan returned to practice today after missing time last week with a bone bruise on his knee. “slowly.”
- The prognosis is not as good for Ryquell Armstead, who is on the Jaguars’ Reserve/COVID-19 list for the second time. “I think it’s going to be a while,” Marrone said. “He’ll be out for a while.” While on the Reserve/COVID-19 list players do not count against the active roster.
- With Amstead out, the Jaguars running backs include Chris Thompson, Devine Ozigbo, and James Robinson. The Jaguars have worked out Devonte Freemen, the former Atlanta Falcon. “We brought Deonta in, we had good talks with him and we’ll see where it goes,” Marrone said.
- Few quarterbacks have given the Jaguars more trouble than Philip Rivers. Rivers has beaten the Jaguars in seven of nine games all-time. His numbers are staggering. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. River’s Career quarterback rating against the Jaguars is 119.1. “It’s a great challenge. He’s done that to a lot of teams,” Marrone said. “You really aren’t going to show him things he hasn’t seen before. They create challenges. They have great skill outside and a plethora of great running backs.”
- We do not know how many pinatas the Colts will bring with them.
- Marrone said that the team voted on captains today. They are quarterback Gardner Minshew, center Brandon Linder, and wide receiver Chris Conley on offense. Defensive captains included defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack, safety Jarrod Wilson and defensive tackle Abry Jones, with kicker Josh Lambo as the special teams’ captain. It’s the fourth time Linder has been selected as a captain. Jack was also selected as captain last season. It’s the first time any of the other players have been selected as team captains.
- The Jaguars released the first unofficial depth chart of the year. Among the notable surprises, undrafted rookie free agent James Robinson is listed as the starter at running back. On defense, Adam Gotsis, the former Denver Bronco, is listed as the starter opposite of Josh Allen, and Josh Jones is listed as the starter at strong safety. Those three replace Leonard Fournette, Yannick Ngakoue, and Ronnie Harrison, who were either traded or waived during the preseason.