For most us we will sit in a chair and answer questions with respect to the position we desire. In sports the format is quite a bit different and the interview never really ends. Every year the 4 preseason games become an official forum in which the coaches can evaluate the potential candidates. Some will be dismissed while reading the resume, i.e. training camp, but most will get the chance to answer the questions in game time situations.
This is difficult for the fan to grasp as often you will hear season long predictions based solely on the performance of the first team offense in the first preseason game. If such a philosophy holds any value then Colt fans had better prepare for a disappointing season.
I'm sure the coaching staff wants to see a victory. That would indicate a wealth of depth as every group of players put into the game dominated the opponent. But we can't pretend to know what the ends to the means are when it comes to preseason. Is the coach calling basic plays to evaluate certain positions? Are the coordinators looking for weaknesses that need further attention? As in chess, sometimes you gain more when you sacrifice than when you acquire.
Going into the Miami game with a mindset that this is the first interview of the year for the players may help with perspective. Some potential points of interest:
1. Can David Garrard lead the first team offense to touchdowns?
With past ineptness to score during the preseason there is historical reference for concern in this area. It would be easy to fall into that trap, especially with the youth at WR, but a better gauge might be whether David can sustain drives. Look for whether the offensive line is giving him protection. See if the throws are on target. Look for correct checks under center. Finishing drives is the true measure of an offense but this Jaguar team goes into the Miami game without Mike Walker and with presumably limited playing time for Torry Holt. The preseason is about progress and starting with multiple 3 and outs would be more of a red flag considering the most seasoned player in the receiving game may be the tight end.
2. Is the opposing quarterback going down?
Last year the Jaguars tied for 20th in the NFL with 29 sacks. Statistics from WalterFootball.com show, through passing touchdowns allowed divided by total passes attempted, the Jaguars gave up the 4th highest percentage of scores through the air. First thing the Jaguars must establish is a pass rush on the quarterback so that big pass play can't develop. Is the QB uncomfortable in the pocket? Watch to see if he can go through his progression. That being said, Derrick Harvey ended the season leading the Jaguars in quarterback pressures with 29, a figure that ranked just behind Dwight Freeney (33) and ahead of Mario Wiliams (25). The one stat he is lacking are the sacks, where his 3.5 is a nice 6th amongst rookies from 2008 yet is a distance from Williams (12) and Freeney (10.5). Seeing Harvey, or Reggie Hayward, take down Pennington and the ball would actually be progress.
3. The "big play" or the "sustained drive"?
Two questions being asked here: 1) Are the defensive backs as bad as last year indicated and 2) Do the Jaguars have the front 7 to stop drives? The answer to question one may be contingent on point #2 above. Looking back at the New England playoff game of 2007, given enough time the QB will find an open receiver. I personally think for Reggie Nelson, Brian Williams and Rashean Mathis, last year was a product of no pass rush, injuries and bad schemes. Derek Cox has given reason to believe he can contribute and adding Marlon McCree was a big gain to the positional depth. There is also interest as to whether Gerald Alexander can win a starting spot.
Miami really doesn't field a true threat at WR and Chad doesn't have an arm to fear so Jacksonville has no excuse for getting beat deep. Last year Miami's domination at the point of attack ended up being an indication of Jacksonville weakness. This may be the one exception to the preseason rule considering the veteran leadership.
Miami does, however, offer a challenge to the defensive front as well as the linebackers. Ronnie Brown is healthy and coming off a great year. Ricky Williams is 32 years old but may still be able to bruise. Add Pat White to the mix and the Jaguars get a chance to answer some big questions. Is John Henderson back? What will Atiyyah Ellison and Derek Landri bring to the other DT position? How is Terrance Knighton progressing? Were the changes at LB the right move? Is there any depth at LB? Where does Quentin Groves fit in? Long drives will happen you just don't want the time of possession to be lopsided. With the talent at RB the Jaguars will face in the AFC South, this may be the most intriguing of all areas to watch from beginning to end.
4. Is there depth at running back?
There are high expectations and justified trepidation as to the post-Fred Taylor era in Jacksonville. If we've learned anything about the NFL in recent years it is that having a two headed monster at running back is critical. Maurice Jones-Drew has earned the faith but behind him are two looming question marks. Greg Jones has battled from devistating injuries, shown glimpses of potential and now finds himself in the spot light. Rashad Jennings is thought of as a potential steal of the draft and has garnered serious attention thus far in camp. If all three live up to their potential the offense looks strong going into the season. Watching to see how Jones and Jennings run (find\hit the hole), whether they hold onto the ball and if they are a dual threat (run and catch) should be a big focus. Jones should be expected to produce against the first team defense of the Dolphins but he doesn't have to be a game breaker.
5. Is the offensive line in control?
Much of their ability to succeed in the ground and in the air will be dependent on the play of the offensive line. Considering the beating Jacksonville took in last year's preseason game, pride should be a motivation. This group is coming off injuries (Manuwai, Meester and Williams). It also added some high profile rookies (Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe) along with a Pro Bowl veteran in Tra Thomas. A repeat of last year's game could be cause for concern but the offensive line is an area where continuity is critical. The more they play together they better they'll get. Possibly the more intriguing story may be the number of successes they have when the rookies are rotated into the game, especially if the news of Monroe getting time is accurate.
6. The play calling and execution.
Here is where a DVR and some time to spare will be a benefit. Questions have been asked about the Jaguars running some type of "wildcat" offense and how they will implement a pure or modified 3-4 defensive scheme. Maybe the easiest way to remove yourself from caring who wins or loses is to focus on what is being called and who is executing at their position. Was Britton at guard and did he pull quick enough? How is David's play fake? Did the LB read the correct hole on the blitz? Is Harvey just bull rushing or is he using hand technique? How are the rookie WRs running their routes? During what situation did the Jaguars go to a 3-4 defense? This is how the coaches see the game.
This surely isn't an exhaustive list and it may not even be the six best areas to focus (some will be watching Harvery vs Long). There is debate over what the preseason may foreshadow and for every 2007 New York Giants (1-3) there is a 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1). The point is that what happens on Monday is more about building a team. Winning the game is more for the fans.