The Jaguars open up the 2012 Pre-Season slate tonight, with a match up against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, at EverBank Field.
Though most of the attention will be on the quarterback for Jaguars fans, there are plenty of good battles happening and interesting story lines for fans of both teams watching to take notice of as the game progresses through the evening.
Here are three things to watch for during the game, for both the Jags and the Giants.
For the Jaguars:
1. Watching the Throne
Rashad Jennings has had the most publicity drawn his way out of all the running backs during Maurice Jones-Drew's contract dispute, and for good reason. The fourth year back out of Liberty University has been consistently the best player on offense in training camp, and his performance during the Jags' team scrimmage last week did nothing but enhance the spotlight on him. That said, Parmele has flashed a lot in camp and at times has done so while running with the first team offense. Much like Jennings, Parmele has shown the ability to not only take hand offs, but also be a reliable weapon in the passing game. It'll be interesting to see just how much separation there is between the two. The Giants defense, while exceptional against the pass, finished 2011 ranked 19th in the NFL vs. the run, which could make for some opportunities for big plays for each player. I expect both backs to get a lot of time in the first half.
2. Nickel & Diming
Derek Cox has done nothing in camp but show he will be the team's #1 corner, and perhaps begin a rise to elite status among the top corners in the NFL. On the other side though, the ongoing battle between veterans Rashean Mathis and Aaron Ross begins to come to a head tonight. Both players have held their own in camp, with the edge perhaps slightly going to Ross as they enter tonight's game. While it's likely both corners won't play much more than the first quarter, it'll be interesting to see what Mel Tucker has planned for them while they are out there. I don't think we'll see any of the three specifically assigned to Giants receiving star Victor Cruz, as the Jags historically don't game plan for such things in the pre-season. Behind the top three, there is also a real good competition for spots 4-6. Kevin Rutland had been playing exceptionally well before being injured within the first few days of camp. While it's to be determined if Rutland plays tonight, rookie Mike Harris has really stepped up in his absence and has a chance to start showing he can step right in and handle perhaps the dimeback role this season. Not to be overlooked, returning dimeback/special teams-ace WIll Middleton, undrafted free agents Antontio Dennard and Antwon Blake, and recently signed vets Leigh Torrence and Trumaine McBride, are all in a tight race to fill out the remaining spots.
3. Under Pressure
The starting offensive line has been a game of, "Guess Who?", seemingly since camp has opened. With starting left guard Will Rackley out for the pre-season with a high ankle sprain, guard Uche Nwaneri starting camp on the PUP list, veteran center Brad Meester being on a veteran "pitch count" in practice, and the team's premier left tackle Eugene Monroe fighting through knee swelling issues, the only staple on the first team line throughout camp has been right tackle Eben Britton, who himself is finally healthy following a comeback from back surgery. Thankfully for the Jaguars, all but Rackley are expected to play tonight. The positioning will possibly be slightly adjusted, as the team practiced Thursday with Britton at left guard and second year tackle Cam Bradfield, also recently returning from injury, filling in at the right tackle spot. That front five should be more than capable of holding their own in the rushing attack, however, Monroe and Bradfield will have their hands full trying to keep Gabbert off the ground as they face off against the fantastic pass rush of defensive ends Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. It goes without saying that any success from Gabbert tonight, will hinge on the play of the two young tackles. This should be a good gauge to see how far along, or behind, the line is after dealing with the injury bug this Summer.
For the Giants:
1. Martellus vs. "The Bear"
After losing both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to severe knee injuries, and eventually placing Ballard on waivers in the off-season, the Giants have been left with a pretty heated battle at the tight end position. Former Cowboy Martellus Bennett is entrenched in a competition for the top spot with returning veteran Bear Pascoe. From what I've been told, Bennett showed up for camp in top physical and mental shape, after being known as a bit of a malcontent in Dallas, and has begun to distinguish himself from Pascoe over the last couple of weeks, both in catching the ball and blocking. Pascoe is listed as the starter on the depth chart released this week, but we should see a rotation of both guys with the first and second string offenses. The Jaguars have historically had troubles covering the tight end, so it should be interesting for both sides to watch this match up. Keep an eye out for rookie Adrien Robinson as the game progresses as well. He's shown some strong ability in the passing game so far in camp.
2. Playing it Safe(ty)
The Giants play a very aggressive 4-2-5 defense, and one of the keys to the Giants success in the alignment has been the play of their safeties. While Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips are pretty secure as the starters, the Giants allowed former Jaguar Deon Grant to walk in free agency, which has left an opening to be filled by either second-year FS Tyler Sash or former Gator standout Will Hill. While Sash had appeared to be in line to take the third safety job, he was recently suspended by the league for the first four regular-season game, due to testing positive for a banned substance. (Sash states it was prescribed Aderol, and is appealing) Despite the suspension, Sash will play tonight, and it should be interesting to see who Coach Tom Coughlin goes with first, in light of Sash's suspension. Either one will have the task of taking on a pretty good stable of pass catching tight ends for the Jags as well as the third and fourth receivers in the new look Jaguar offense.
3. Oh, Mr. Wilson!
Rookie running back David Wilson will likely see a lot of time from the middle of the first half on, in the place of veteran Ahmad Bradshaw, who the Giants would like to keep as healthy as possible for the regular season after bouts with the injury bug. The first round pick out of Virginia Tech is going to be counted upon to fill the hole left by Brandon Jacobs in the off-season, and has the ability to break the big play with only one or two moves. Look for the Giants to feed Wilson the ball often to try and get a sense for how far along he is in picking up their complex offense. He'll get a good test of his skills in the NFL, as the Jaguars remain very strong against the run regardless of which string is out on the field.