The offensive line was improved. There were more lanes to run through and the running backs were not getting hit in the backfield nearly as much as they did last season. However, Luke Joeckel continued to struggle against one of the oldest defensive players in the league, James Harrison. Joeckel’s struggles have been well documented on this site and around the league. It’s his job to protect Blake Bortles’ blind side and if this team is going to reach the playoffs, his play must improve.
Despite not having T.J. Yeldon, the running backs still looked good. Denard showed off his speed on several plays, while Toby Gerhart showed off his power and his ability to receive out of the backfield. Gerhart finally looked like the guy we were expecting to get last season, the guy who averaged around 5 yards a carry in Minnesota and was an excellent third down back. Bernard Pierce looks like a great back up running back. On one play he hurdled a Steelers defender while trying to make it to the end zone. Storm Johnson struggled, again, just as he has in training camp. Every week it seems more and more likely that he will not make this team. Corey Grant, the rookie running back from Auburn, didn't show much in his rookie debut.
The defense is good. Despite giving up a touchdown on the opening drive, the defense settled down and played well almost the entire game. On the opening drive touchdown, newly acquired cornerback, Davon House, got burned by Martavis Bryant on a long scoring play. While it was an unimpressive effort from House, he kept battling and was able to make an impressive diving deflection to stop what could have been another scoring play. If the Jaguars can find an answer at free safety and the linebackers can stay healthy this defense has a chance to be elite.
The return groups are exciting! Rashad Greene had an explosive 37 yard punt return while Nick Marshall and Denard Robinson (who both played QB in college) each had kick returns of 30+ yards. This is an exciting prospect for a franchise that has lacked explosive returners for quite some time. While Jordan Todman did well on kick returns last year, he was not a huge home run threat; it appears that all three of these players have a chance to be just that. On the other hand, Corey Grant, the aforementioned running back, did not look overly impressive in his chances to return kickoffs. He will be fighting just for a spot on the roster over the next several weeks.
Julius Thomas and John Cyprien both suffered hand injuries, but should be back for the regular season opener. Despite the injuries, this was a good game for the Jaguars and another step in the right direction for a young team. The Jaguars will go on the road next week to play the Giants on Saturday, August 22nd.
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