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Jaguars vs. Patriots: 5 things to watch in tonight’s preseason opener

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-Training Camp Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Mercifully the NFL preseason is finally here and in full effect, as the Jacksonville Jaguars are set to take on the New England Patriots in Foxborough.

You can find all the details on how to watch the game here, but there are a few things worth paying attention to more than just the “game” itself. As we all know, the winner of the actual game doesn’t matter, it’s more about the performances within the game that matter.

Here are five things to watch in the game tonight:

1. Blake Bortles’ efficiency

Obviously, all eyes will be on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. By all accounts he’s been fine through most of training camp, though there have been some rough patches along the way. There was the first padded practice where the team installed a lot of third down work and he had five interceptions. Then when the team traveled to practice with the Patriots and he seemed to be all over the place, throwing a pick one day and struggling in 11-on-11 the next.

“I thought that early on in the beginning the seven-on-seven and the one-on-ones,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said after Wednesday’s walk through. “I thought that the players did a good job and I think that they carried over to 11-on-11, which is usually the last thing and it’s not an excuse, but that’s where we need to be a lot better when we get out there in situations and get out there in 11-and-11 situations and execute.”

Bortles reportedly looked good in the passing skeleton drills and one-on-one passing drills, but those are things he should look good at. The big thing now will be translating that to actual game situations. On Thursday evening I’m not looking for eye popping numbers or big time throws from Bortles, I’m looking for efficiency and if he can string together a scoring drive.

2. How does the offensive line look?

The Jaguars offensive line has been a big talking point all offseason, rightfully so, and so far in training camp and through the practices with the Patriots they haven’t given much to make fans feel comfortable. The team was stuffed on the goal line on four straight plays the first day with the Patriots and reportedly got beat up in pass rushing drills. Albeit those drills are skewed heavy for the defensive player, it’s still not what you want to hear about a unit that was a concern to begin with.

It sounds as if rookie Cam Robinson will get the first crack at left tackle with the starters, which is the correct idea, but the rate at which he still splits reps with Josh Wells in practice is a little eyebrow raising. Regardless, how the line run blocks on Thursday evening and through the preseason is something to watch.

3. Will Myles Jack make a play?

One of the things I get asked the most about for the Jaguars during training camp is “How is Myles Jack doing?” and I really don’t have a good answer. By all accounts he’s “fine”, but he hasn’t really stood out one way or another. Many people are expecting Jack to be a flashy playmaker for the Jaguars, due to his speed and athleticism, but that’s not likely to show in training camp practices.

Thursday evening will be one of the first times we can really get an idea of where he’s at. Live plays are where we will get to judge Jack and where exactly he stands as the team’s middle linebacker. Is he getting everyone lined up? Is he ready to line everyone up and still play with instinct, or is he lining everyone up and then still thinking about what he’s doing?

4. Will Dante Fowler, Jr. re-appear?

Fowler has had an interesting offseason, to say the least, but his 2017 training camp has seemed to trend similarly to his 2016 training camp. He was drawing rave reviews in drills and disruptive in practice, but once the team went up to New England the only thing you heard about him was him getting kicked off the practice field for fighting, just like what happened when the team practiced with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.

Maturity issues are an entirely separate discussion, but it is a bit worrisome that it’s close to becoming a pattern for Fowler to disappear against another team in back-to-back preseasons. Will he show up in the game and where will he be in the defensive line rotation?

5. Defensive back depth

We know the Jaguars have been without Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin, both of which are rehabbing back from offseason issues. A.J. Bouye has been on the field, but was held out of the Jaguars practice on Tuesday, so I would venture to guess he will play the bare minimum, if at all on Thursday evening.

The one good thing about all of those front line starters missing from the secondary is you will get a real good evaluation of your depth, which is an area I continually brought up as one of concern this offseason. Tyler Patmon is a player who’s shined in training camp while rookie Jalen Myrick has seemed to struggle. On Thursday these players, along with Josh Johnson, should get plenty of reps against first and second team players, so it will be a nice gauge of the team’s depth at cornerback.

What are you looking for tonight?