The Jacksonville Jaguars enter week two of the preseason with a winning record, standing at 1-0 after defeating the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Yes, that opener reads a bit over-dramatic, considering this is the preseason, but all in all, the Jaguars put together a very good first preseason game. They checked off almost all of the boxes in terms of what we we’re watching for.
Looking forward, the Jaguars host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field this Thursday for their second preseason game. We should expect to see the Jaguars starters play a couple more drives than they did against New England, but I’d assume the second team will begin to take the field around the middle of the second quarter.
Before the game, however, the Jaguars will hold joint practices with the Buccaneers at the team’s practice fields. Monday and Tuesday’s practices will be open to the public, and you can register to attend both here.
In order to preview the practices, we welcome Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre on Twitter) of PewterReport.com to do a back-and-forth Q&A. Much like the preview I did with PatsPulpit.com to preview the Jaguars and Patriots practices, Trevor and I will answer questions from both a Jaguars and Buccaneers perspective, to give readers the greatest amount of knowledge they need before the practices kick off.
With that, let the preview begin!
Both the Jaguars and Buccaneers acquired a lot of talent during the 2017 offseason. Who is one new player from each team that you expect to make the biggest impact this season?
Trevor: For the Buccaneers, as much as many people would think it might be tight end, O.J. Howard, the correct answer is wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Even though acquiring Howard allows head coach Dirk Koetter (who also calls the plays) to finally install the two-TE system he's been trying to install since he got to Tampa, Jackson's impact is going to be greater in 2017, I think. They're not going to just use him as a deep threat; he's going to be the team's top mismatch player on the outside, in the slot and even getting handoffs.
For the Jaguars, they did really well in free agency, and Fournette is obviously going to do his thing, but I'm going to say it's Cam Robinson. I cannot believe that the Jaguars got Robinson where they did in the draft. He was a monster at Alabama, and he's going to be the starting left tackle. Though non-statistical, his impact will be the greatest.
Zach: I think cornerback A.J. Bouye, who signed with the Jaguars in March, being paired with Jalen Ramsey automatically gives the Jaguars a top-tier cornerback tandem, and him being added to the Jaguars secondary will take their pass defense to a whole ‘nother level. Last season, former Jaguars cornerback Prince Amukamara was often targeted near the first down marker and didn’t hold his own too well while teams neglected to target Ramsey’s side of the field. With Bouye taking over at cornerback opposite of Ramsey, the team doesn’t need to worry about the No. 2 CB being picked on. Bouye ended his 2016 season with an interception and 16 defended passes.
As for Tampa Bay, I agree with Trevor. The Bucs have a clear threat at receiver in Mike Evans already, and adding Jackson, as well as Howard and Chris Godwin, to provide Jameis Winston with weapons can turn this offense into something special.
Jackson is a vertical threat who possesses speed to take the top off of defenses, opening up the middle of the field for guys like Howard and Godwin, as well as Evans outside. Trevor mentioned this as well: Jackson can be used all over the field as well — Near the sidelines, out of the slot, and as a ball carrier. All in all, this Buccaneers offense is going to be really fun to watch, and Jackson will be a key component going forward.
The Jaguars and the Buccaneers are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the development of their young quarterbacks. When the 2017 season is over, how do you believe each quarterback — Blake Bortles and Jameis Winston — will have performed? What do both quarterbacks need to improve on going forward?
Trevor: Both quarterbacks may be young, but fortunately or unfortunately, we sort of have a good idea of who they are. For Winston, even in his college days, he was a guy who took risks, made big throws but threw too many turnovers. That was his outcome in his final year at FSU, and that was his outcome during his first two seasons as a Buc. But, this year he has, not only the talent, but the right kind of talent around him to be more efficient. I think his efficiency gets a slight bump, and I think he goes over 4,000 yards for the third straight year.
For Blake Bortles, I'm sorry, Jags fans, I just don't see it. I can't think he's going to get miraculously better when all the signs point the other way. For him it's the processing, the decision making and the accuracy. I think there's a very good chance that this is his last year in Jacksonville, especially with a good quarterback class coming up – in theory.
Zach: Do I need to say much else other than what Trevor said? Winston is a growing star, and if you’re one to gamble, I’d consider putting money down on Winston to win the NFL MVP award (small risk, huge gain). With the weapons the Buccaneers front office have provided Winston with, get ready for him to end the 2017 season near the top of statistical charts.
As for Bortles, well, we all know about Bortles and his catastrophic 2016 season. He’s had an up and down training camp and preseason so far and has displayed some of the same decision making issues that he did last year. I love Bortles — He’s a UCF guy, my favorite school, and a charitable guy that pretty much everyone can like as a person — so I really hope he turns things around in 2017. That, however, would likely require a miracle.
Name one position group from each team that has a significant edge over the other team’s opposing position group.
Trevor: Man, this is a great question. It's a bit of a tight advantage for the Bucs, because the Jags actually match up well here, but I'll say that the tight ends, Howard and Cameron Brate versus the linebacker group of the Jaguars would be the Bucs best advantage. Though Jack and Smith have the athleticism to keep up, those tight ends are still savvy. Even with the Bucs' good receiving group, the Jaguars corners negate an on-paper advantage.
For the Jaguars, it's their defensive line versus Tampa Bay's offensive line. I think the Bucs offensive line will be better than it was last year, but Jacksonville's defensive line is ferocious. Campbell, Jackson and Ngakoue are very nice and I've read Fowler's doing well, too. They would have the biggest edge over another Bucs group, I think.
Zach: Looking at both rosters, it’s hard to point out a clear “advantage” for either team besides the Jaguars defensive line vs. the Buccaneers offensive line. The Jaguars pass rush will likely take a step forward this year with Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell and Abry Jones leading the way. Sheldon Day and rookie Duwuane Smoot are both guys to keep our eyes on as rotational pieces, as well. While the Buccaneers have a solid interior offensive lineman in Ali Marpet, but he is taking on a new position at center and the rest of the line is a bit of a concern.
The Buccaneers pass rush is also likely to do some damage this year. 2016 second round pick Noah Spence will continue to grow after his 5.5 sack rookie season, and Robert Ayers is a guy who can play both inside and outside and find a way to produce sacks and pressure. Gerald McCoy is a beast along the interior, as seen by his seven sacks and 19 QB hurries last year. While the Jaguars offensive line was about league average in pass protection last year, rookie Cam Robinson and the Jaguars offensive line as a whole will be tested this week.
Which “matchup”, whether it be unit vs. unit or player vs. player, are you most looking forward to during the joint practices and the Thursday night game?
Trevor: I'll give you two – if I'm allowed to do that.
[Interjection from Zach: Yes, Trevor is allowed to do that.]
If cornerback Jalen Ramsey is going to practice, him versus Mike Evans or DeSean Jackson is going to be fun. The reason for that is not just because of the talent, but also the Buccaneers' corners play a very bend-but-don't-break style of defense, and Ramsey is the opposite as a lockdown corner. It would be the first time a corner with his skill set would be in their face.
The second is Bucs linebacker, Kwon Alexander, versus Jags running back, Leonard Fournette – that's LSU on LSU. Both of those guys have a mean streak in them, and if they let the two teams hit with some good contact, that could make for some fun collisions in practice.
Zach: I’ll continue on Trevor’s first matchup, but I’ll say the Jaguars secondary as a whole vs. the Buccaneers passing attack. As I mentioned earlier, Tampa Bay’s offense is filled with weapons, as Winston will be throwing to Evans, Jackson, Howard and Godwin. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Colvin, and safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson will be facing quite the challenge this week against the Buccaneers’ receiving corps, and if this Jaguars secondary can live up to it’s potential, all eyes should be on this matchup during every team drill.
Who is one player from the opposing team that you would want to replace a current starter on the team you cover?
Trevor: I'll say Cam Robinson just because the Bucs' offensive line is still unproven. I could easily say Jalen Ramsey, but Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes have been great so far this year for the defense Mike Smith runs. Robinson, even if current left tackle Donovan Smith improves, would play at either tackle and dominate – their current other tackle, Demar Dotson, is fine, but aging.
Zach: Jameis Winston makes this Jaguars team an automatic contender in the AFC South, and potentially takes this team a bit into the playoffs. I expect him to take a huge step this upcoming season, his third in the league.