The Jaguars play host to their southern neighbors to the northwest tonight, as they face the Atlanta Falcons at EverBank Field for the final game of the 2012 preseason.
The fourth preseason game is usually the least popular among the casual fan, since a majority of the known starting players will see little to no playing time as the teams rest the guys they know they'll be counting on in a week when the regular season begins. Though the "big name" players likely won't see the field tonight, there are plenty of story lines and points of interest to keep a watchful eye out for as the night plays out.
So with that said, here are three things to keep an eye on for the Jaguars and Falcons preseason finale.
For the Jaguars:
1. Ones for the Road
Following a statistically OK, yet lackluster performance in Baltimore last week, head coach Mike Mularkey informed the media this week that the first team offense will see the field for likely a drive or two in the first quarter of the game tonight. While this isn't necessarily needed in my opinion, as I feel like the offense has shown more than enough to take a positive view heading into next Sunday at Minnesota, it's obvious Mularkey wants to leave the pre-season with a better taste in his mouth for the offense, than what was left on the field versus the Ravens. I fully expect Gabbert and the first team to look as well as they did against New Orleans, as they face a mostly backup laden defense for Atlanta. Hopefully, the team is smart enough to sit Rashad Jennings and not leave Gabbert, Blackmon and crew out for any longer than a drive or so. This will also be a chance for the first full look at the complete offensive line for the first team, as Eugene Monroe returns to action after missing last week's game with concussion symptoms. That means we'll see a line of Monroe, Britton, Meester, Nwaneri, and Bradfield together for the first time.
2. Backup, Backup Cause It's On...
So who will it be, Henne or Palmer? Mularkey stated last week before the Ravens game that Henne remains the backup QB even after two poor performances the previous two weeks that were shadowed by two above average ones from Jordan Palmer in those same games. It seemed that Mularkey at the time, was perhaps trying to instill a vote of confidence in Henne in hopes of getting the vet to step his game up. Henne still went out and played relatively poorly though against Baltimore. Both QBs will get one final chance at making positive or negative statements to Gene Smith and coaching staff, as they both look to play their most substantial time of the preseason. It would likely take a complete meltdown by Henne and a sustained performance of the first two games from Palmer, in order for the Jaguars to make the change. Having seen the first three games though, it's not necessarily out of the realm of possibility for that scenario to take place.
3. All the Trimmings
This is the final shot for the players we've all had our eyes on since the team signed all those undrafted free agents on draft weekend. The Jaguars head into tonight's game with several battles for roster spots going on along the defensive and offensive lines, cornerback, running back, and linebacker. UDFA rookies Kevin Elliot, Julian Stanford, Joshua Jones, J.K. Schaffer, Antonio Dennard, and Antwon Blake are all guys that enter this game with genuine 50/50 shots at making the final 53. Whichever of them can make the most noise on the field tonight, is likely to make it through the weekend a Jaguar. Also, keep a watchful eye out for recent draft picks D'Anthony Smith, Jaris Pendleton, Brandon Marshall, Rod Issac, and Zach Miller, as each of them can possibly be facing a date with "The Turk", on Friday.
For the Falcons:
1. Unique QB Battle
Much like the Jaguars, the Falcons have an interesting dynamic at quarterback as they search for the back up to the outstanding Matt Ryan. Longtime backup Chris Redman was released over the weekend, leaving the door wide open for newly signed Luke McCown, yes that Luke McCown...AGAIN, and the "star" of the Falcons preseason this summer, Dominique Davis. The odds on favorite to win the battle is Davis, as he has wowed both coaches and the fan base with his play in the camp and the first three preseason match ups, but as we know all too well here in Jaguars land, Luke McCown will one day be played by Liam Neeson in a movie as he simply doesn't go away. I'm really interested to watch Davis, as I was pretty high on him coming out of ECU.
2. Tooned In
The Falcons have a dynamic receiving core of Julio Jones, Rowdy Roddy White (God, I love typing that), Harry Douglas, and for the most part Tony Gonzalez. Despite that, there is still a very competitive battle taking place for the last couple of spots on the receiving depth chart. James Rodgers, brother of Jacquizz who is also a Falcon, and former 2010 "Mr. Irrelevant" Tim Toone are in a tight race to earn a spot as the Falcons fifth receiver and special teams ace. From all reports, Toone has the "inner lane" on the race, after having a good night in Miami last week. Both are likely to get a lot of reps tonight and should provide a good measuring stick for the other side, as the Jaguars try to sort the final spots out in the secondary, among guys like Antonio Dennard and Antwon Blake.
3. Welcome Back, Koetter
Tonight's game marks the return of much maligned former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to Jacksonville. While he isn't likely to show any sort of real game planned offensive schemes tonight, astute fans who have a keen football eye should be able to notice a few plays that look pretty familiar from the Jaguars offense of the last few years. (ALL THE BUBBLE SCREENS!) While many Jags fans hold disdain for Koetter's "anemic offense", Atlanta has shown the look of an offensive juggernaut at times in the preseason. It'll be interesting to see if Koetter tries to make a statement towards his former employer, even with it being the final preseason game. Ironically enough, this also marks the first time Mike Mularkey will face his former team, following his run as Falcons offensive coordinator before coming to Jacksonville. If the Jags and Falcons could combine teams as much as they've swapped coaching staffs, we'd win all the Super Bowlz!!
For more in-depth analysis on the Falcons for tonight's game, check out our friends at The Falcoholic