JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Like the maze of construction around TIAA Bank Field, the Jaguars are very much still a work in progress.
But at least the work in Friday night’s home preseason opener will be done — albeit briefly — by players who Jaguars fans are well aware of.
The big change from last week’s sloppy and scaled down Hall of Fame game against the Raiders will be the sight of players who fans are familiar with in the starting lineup when the Browns visit on Friday night at 7.
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Coach Doug Pederson said this week that he wants to see his starters in action.
That means Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and the rest of the projected No. 1s will hit the field for the first time together. A few defensive starters (Tyson Campbell, Travon Walker) saw limited snaps against the Raiders but it was brief.
Expect more of the same against the Browns with the perk that all the starters will all be on the field for a limited amount of time. Last week, third-string quarterback Jake Luton got the start for Lawrence and Kyle Sloter played the bulk of the second half for the Jaguars. Expect to see Lawrence and backup CJ Beathard for a limited number of reps against the Browns. Luton and newly re-signed EJ Perry will likely get the bulk of the reps.
While the work of the No. 1s figures to be brief, it will still give fans a glimpse of who they can expect to see when the regular season kicks off on Sept. 11 at Washington.
While preseason games aren’t great viewing for the fans — the NFL cut them from four to three games last year for all teams except the two who play in the Hall of Fame game — it’s still extremely valuable action for players looking to knock the rust off or make an NFL roster.
Safety Andre Cisco, who didn’t play much as a rookie under then-coach Urban Meyer, said training camp practices are valuable but nothing simulates game reps.
“It’s crucial. I know for me, I’ve still got things I’m working on,” he said. “I’m focusing on that so when game one comes, it might not be perfect yet, but I know I put my time into it in live situations because offseason and even practice you can only do so much, so I appreciate these preseason games. I really do.”
Cisco turned in the hit of training camp last Sunday on Etienne, a play that sent the defense into a raucous celebration. Etienne popped up after the hit but the tenacity of it was off the charts.
“I really didn’t think I hit him that hard. It was the reaction from Rayshawn [Jenkins] and all them like ‘Yeah!’ I said, ‘I hit him like that?’ ‘Yeah, you hit him like that.’ I saw it on film. It was decent. I don’t feel too bad though.”
Etienne said he needed to take a few hits like that entering the regular season. He missed all of his rookie year after a Lisfranc injury and surgery. Etienne has had a very good training camp and Pederson said he’s eager to see how that translates to live action.
“I am. We’ve seen a lot here in practice, now get under the lights, the roar of the crowd, and that stuff, it’s a different feel,” Pederson said. “That’s why you do it, right? You practice for all those scenarios, and he’s one of the guys we want to see.”
It also figures to be an interesting sight for Jacksonville defenders who will face Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson. The scandal-plagued Watson last played in an NFL game on Jan. 3, 2021 when he was a member of the Texans. He demanded a trade and sat out the 2021 season, then was dealt to the Browns for three first-round draft picks in the offseason. He’s been mired in a sexual assault and sexual harassment issues for more than a year and was suspended for six games for violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The league has appealed for a harsher punishment.
When he played for the Texans, Watson was one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. But he’s been out of action for more than a year, so there’s major interest — and significant disgust from many corners of the country — about his first game.
How Watson plays will be a juicy subplot but Pederson is no doubt more concerned about how the Jaguars execute. Las Vegas rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns against Jacksonville.
“It’s still a little bit early in camp, but we’re settled in now here, and you start seeing a little separation with the guys and the ones who really take the reins and lead by example, lead by grabbing their position group, grabbing the whole offense or defense, and you just need more of that,” Pederson said.
“You need more guys that embrace it. It’s not about being perfect because we’re not perfect out here. Guys are going to make mistakes, but at the same time we’ve got to take ownership in it, learn from them, and this is that time.”