By all accounts, the two padded sessions have been relatively anti-climactic, and it will be interesting to see if any subdued frustrations froth to the surface on Saturday.
The Vikings defense is the only other unit that really holds a candle to the Jaguars’ starting eleven, and the reported offensive struggles over the last few days validates that notion. With no better litmus test than the Vikings, don’t be surprised if Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett leave Blake Bortles and the starters in for at least the entire first quarter, if not more, to get a good pulse on where the offense stands. The Vikings may perhaps have the deepest secondary unit in the NFL (their third-team depth chart includes Holton Hill/Jayron Kearse/Jack Tocho/Mackensie Alexander) so this could pose a problem in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings have had some injuries to what was already a shaky offensive line, especially along the interior. Second-year center Pat Elflein has been sidelined thus far in camp and Nick Easton landed on injured reserve due to an issue with his neck, so the defensive line needs to show up early and demonstrate that they can stop the run. One player that Jaguars fans need to keep an eye on is Vikings third-string quarterback Kyle Sloter, who had some “wow” throws against the Broncos last week. If the Vikings choose to go with just Kirk Cousins and Trevor Siemian, Sloter would be an intriguing option as a potential developmental quarterback for the Jaguars.
For more information on the Vikings, check out our guy Ryan O’Bleness’ crossover piece with The Daily Norsemen.
All eyes will be on cornerback Tyler Patmon this week as he gets the start for suspended superstar Jalen Ramsey. Jaguars fans should get a dose of reality of just how important Ramsey is to this defense if Adam Thielen and/or Stefon Diggs have their way with Patmon early on. If Patmon gets picked on but shows up and plays well, that can go a long way for the confidence of Jaguars fans and front office alike in the event Ramsey or Bouye have to miss time in the event of injury.
Taven Bryan is also tracking to make his NFL debut, so it will be interesting to see where he lines up. Bryan has been working mostly at strong side defensive end behind Calais Campbell, who recently had some very kind words about the rookie, but pay attention to see if they move Bryan inside to the three-technique in various sub packages.
Speaking of three-techniques, one player that I’m jacked up to see this week is Michael Bennett, who was disruptive in collapsing the pocket and suffocating the run against the Saints last week. Bennett can be a valuable rotational player on the defensive line if he can make it to week one with a clean bill of health.
New tight end addition Austin Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t the only one holding his breath Wednesday when he got the wind knocked out of him and left practice early. Thin at the position beyond ASJ, the Jaguars need to balance the dilemma of keeping the prized free agent healthy and starting to feature him more in the offense after not having any targets last week. Seeing Seferian-Jenkins stretch the seam, preferably for a touchdown, would be a welcome sight to most Jaguars fans who have seen pedestrian production from the position for the last several years.
5 key matchups
Leon Jacobs vs. Roc Thomas
It’s still 50-50 whether or not former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook suits up on Saturday, but it may not even matter, as undrafted rookie Roc Thomas may have been the hottest running back in the first week of preseason. Thomas may only have had 29 yards off of eight carries against the Broncos last week, but his three catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns will be a performance that Leon Jacobs will have to limit to being a one-hit wonder.
Jacobs was exceptional at the point of attack last week, and if he could continue to hold contain on the outside and funnel Thomas back into the teeth of the defense, it could go a long way to assuage the doubts of inserting a seventh-round rookie into an otherwise elite defensive starting unit.
Danielle Hunter/Tashawn Bower vs. Will Richardson
I profiled Richardson last week against Marcus Davenport, and neither dressed for the game. Here’s to hoping that Richardson actually plays this time around, as he is quickly becoming the biggest enigma of the rookie class. Outside of a few positive notes from Tony Boselli, things have been relatively quiet on the fourth round pick from North Carolina State. Vikings second-year edge rusher Tashawn Bower was very impressive last week and should be a handful for the rookie if he ends up playing after missing Thursday’s practice. Don’t be surprised if Richardson plays an extended amount of time to make up for the missed reps last week.
Korey Robertson vs. Quenton Meeks
Tre Herndon against Tre’Quan Smith ended up being a very busy battle as Herndon registered seven tackles. This week, the focus will be on a different rookie free agent cornerback in Quenton Meeks. Meeks has also done nice things in camp, but evidently is buried behind Herndon in the early depth chart. If he can make a splash play, he will make a huge case for himself and gain some ground on Herndon. A receiver I rated very highly in the draft process, Southern Mississippi rookie free agent Korey Robertson could prove to be a nice challenge for Meeks on the perimeter.
Logan Cooke vs. Mike Hughes/Mike Priefer
Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is one of the best in the business, and after a promising debut last week from rookie punter Logan Cooke, this game could be a great opportunity to show off his directional punting. With high odds of the offense getting stymied due to the strength of the Vikings defense, Cooke should be much busier than he was last week. If so, the team will get a better gauge of how good he really is at pinning the ball inside the twenty. Fielding the punts will be familiar face Mike Hughes, a rookie first rounder from University of Central Florida who has been impressive in camp.
Tanner Lee vs. Himself
I was very down on Tanner Lee in last week’s primer against the Saints, and boy do I hate being right sometimes. We all know by now that Lee took more sacks than completions, and he will likely have an even tougher time this week with his confidence rattled against a deeper, more talented defense. Not only did Lee exhibit wanderlust behavior with his pocket presence, he was also erratic with his ball placement and missed wide-open receivers.
The offense struggles early because they’re trying some different things, it doesn’t work, and Jaguars fans start panicking on Twitter. If Bortles does struggle, relax. I do expect the Vikings offense to likewise struggle with a relatively low score until the backups take over. I hate to say it again, but it could get out of hand when Lee enters the game. Don’t be surprised if Vikings rookie free agent cornerback Holton Hill picks Lee off in the fourth quarter and the game and the lead becomes insurmountable.
Vikings win 27-17, but who cares?