Let's be real -- there are more than five players who need to find a way to impress us in the Jacksonville Jaguars scrimmage at Everbank Field tonight.
As the Jaguars approach the third season of the Gus Bradley era, the roster looks plenty different that the one in place three short (long) years ago. Positions have been shuffled with the addition of higher-level free agent talent, veteran pieces have come and gone, and rookies have been harvested for immediate contribution.
On the day of the Jaguars' annual scrimmage, now less than one week out from the first preseason game, several bubble players have emerged. Most of the attention will be dedicated to these young players from here on out, as we deduce their chances of sneaking onto the roster.
But I'd like to dedicate my attention to five players -- on the bubble or not -- who need to impress at the scrimmage tonight. We need these guys to show us something tonight.
1. Andre Branch
We're now deep into training camp, which means the "Andre Branch is moving in the right direction" narrative is in season. The thing is, this year, the Jaguars need results a lot more than they need a storyline. Dante Fowler was drafted to be Gus Bradley's prototype LEO, but his ACL tear ripped that plan to shreds. Chris Clemons wasn't around for OTA practices and has spent the entire training camp on the Non-Football Injury list. There are no signs of Clemons stepping back onto the field any time soon.
Still, the Jaguars aren't necessarily thin at pass rushing defensive end. Ryan Davis and Chris Smith have flashed at multiple points through training camp. Hell, even linebacker Dan Skuta is getting some work at the position and appears fully capable of contributing in a pass rush role this season.
That leaves fourth-year DE Andre Branch. Branch needs to find a way to catch attention in the scrimmage. His growth seemed to plateau in his second and third season. Now it's year four. No more narrative -- show us something, Windmill.
2. Zane Beadles
This one seems simple on the surface. Zane Beadles took an entire season to find his groove last year. This season, Beadles needs to uncover a way to lock himself into his left guard spot a little sooner than week 14.
Rookie guard A.J. Cann was drafted in the third round to absorb Beadles' role at some point. If Beadles is going to hold his ground versus Cann this season, he has to first hold his ground against Jaguars pass rushers in the scrimmage tonight.
I mean, this just isn't going to cut it.
Mike Bennett vs Zane Beadles. Yeah, https://t.co/kLUC2MKNsT— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) August 6, 2015
3. Arrelious Benn
Labeled at one point not long ago as prospective punt returner, Arrelious Benn has inflated himself into a wide receiver role that many coaches and media did not forestall.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson spoke briefly about Benn on Friday, saying he was satisfied with the role Benn has adopted in training camp.
"I was shocked with the surgeries he's had, he hasn't lost any speed and he looks even faster, to be honest with you," said Olson. "And he looks stronger. He's always been a strong runner, but he just looks a little smoother to me, a little more athletic."
Benn was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Buccaneers. Initially, his potential seemed limitless, but a few untimely injuries plagued his entire career in the years that followed. Until joining the Jaguars this offseason, Benn had been a decent situational punt returner, and that's about it.
Now, Benn has a chance to show Jaguars fans why he's been one of the media's talking points through training camp. Benn has flashed his athleticism with impressive catches in practice. If he can impress fans and coaches in a game time environment tonight, he won't be stationed under the radar anymore.
4. Khairi Fortt
The Jaguars' starting linebacker group is very much established. Telvin Smith, Paul Posluszny, and Dan Skuta will fill the starting roles of weak, middle, and OTTO backer, respectively.
Behind this trio, there isn't much solidity to be found.
The Jaguars have dedicated authentic practice reps to both Khairi Fortt and LaRoy Reynolds, hoping to uncover a sturdy backup linebackers group. On Friday, Fortt and Reynolds received first team reps as Posluszny and Skuta sat out on their veteran days off.
Head coach Gus Bradley spoke briefly on Fortt's and Reynolds' situation.
"We wanted to put more strain on them. I think it's important to develop that as quickly as possible to see where we're at," Bradley stated.
In Posluszny's position, Fortt has proved to be a respectable option. Unlike LaRoy Reynolds, who is a close lock to make the team thanks to his special teams abilities, Fortt will have to raise his game to find himself on the final roster.
During the scrimmage tonight, Poz is likely to see limited action. Fortt needs to make the most of his opportunity and prove his worth.
5. Blake Bortles
You knew this one was coming.
There is a 0% chance that Blake Bortles plays himself out of his starting quarterback position tonight, which, in a way, makes the need for him to impress us that much more crucial.
Blake Bortles is the undisputed starting quarterback, which is the exact opposite situation he was sitting in at this time last year. This year, the focus is not on bringing Blake up to speed anymore, and the Jaguars aren't taking things slow. Bortles needs to prove tonight, at EverBank Field in front of the first large crowd of the season, that he can carry the weight of the Jaguars offense of the future.
Blake is the franchise quarterback, and he needs to play like it. Tonight, Bortles has an opportunity to show off his improved mechanics and dazzle us with throws he wasn't able to make last year. Blake needs prove that he has a firm grasp of Greg Olson's open-read offense, and that he can lead a team of high level talent and improved playmakers down the field.
It's just a scrimmage, sure. But it's also the kickoff of real football, in a way, and Bortles has to get out in front of the approaching season.
No more playing catch up -- it's go time for Blake to take the reins of this offense in a way he didn't last year.