The success of preseason games are not judged by the same measurements as those in the regular season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars left AT&T Stadium victorious on Saturday evening, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 28-24. Despite the scoreline, head coach Doug Pederson chose to remain balanced in Monday’s press conference, acknowledging the high moments - and equally keen to identify areas that can be improved.
Something the coaching staff has preached this offseason is the importance of a fast start from the offense. Asked on his thoughts about the first two drives, Pederson pulled no punches:
“Well, the other night is not starting fast. You don’t throw an interception on the second play of the game. For us, it’s just a matter of continuing to work at it. We’ve got to work at it in practice. I relate it to how we start practice, how we attack our individual period or team period. Early in practice, that’s the way we have to start a football game. It’s just got to be a mindset. We’re just continuing to work on it, we weren’t very good a year ago with some of our opening possessions, whether they ended up in a punt or turnover, you just can’t have that.”
“Now defensively, I thought those guys came out and they played very aggressive, they played physical. I believe two punts in their first two drives defensively and did a nice job. That’s starting fast. That’s playing fast and starting the game that way.”
Despite the sluggish opening to the game Pederson was happy with his starting quarterback. Trevor Lawrence went 5 of 6 for 36 yards and a touchdown, as well as the aforementioned interception - something that Pederson was keen to stress, was not a scheme issue:
“I thought Trevor did well. Obviously, the one throw slipped out of his hand and all that. I thought the way he rebounded and threw a nice touchdown pass to Christian [Kirk] and then the two-point conversion to Zay [Jones] I thought were great ways for our offense and for Trevor to finish their night.”
“It had nothing to do with the routes. It’s just the fact that the ball slipped out of his hand, if you look at it closely, I think it’s wobbling down the field. It just slipped out of Trevor’s hand, he didn’t get enough on it. If he wanted to throw it the way he hoped he did, it would’ve been a little deeper to Evan [Engram] going in behind the secondary.”
Unsurprisingly, Lawrence featured heavily in the press conference. Pederson praised the quarterback for a growth in confidence this offseason and his dedication to working through things and being more verbal with his teammates. The errant pass aside, Lawrence’s preseason so far appears to be close to faultless.
O-Line rookie performances
Really like this rep by Cooper Hodges. Is able to get under 98 and create enough of a crease for Bigsby to cut back and get a nice gain through pic.twitter.com/Huznr0LAFh— JP Acosta (Pug Dederson Stan Acct) (@acosta32_jp) August 13, 2023
All eyes were on Trevor Lawrence’s protection in Dallas on Saturday, in particular two names making their NFL debuts. Rookie Cooper Hodges played the most snaps of any Jaguar, lining up at left guard 84% of the game. Pederson, on the whole, was impressed:
“I thought Cooper did some really good things. For his first time out, I thought he played physical. He was aggressive, for the most part assignments were pretty clean, there’s some things we can clean up that we’ll do this morning as we watch the tape. I thought overall, his performance really was good for a rookie offensive lineman in his first game.”
A seventh-round pick out of Appalachian State, Hodges’ ascension has been one of the highlights of the preseason so far. With Ben Bartch activated off the PUP list today, perhaps further opportunities will be more limited. But for fellow rookie Anton Harrison, expectations are much different. Despite Pederson’s suggestion pre-game that Harrision would maybe stay in longer to acclimate, Harrison played just 22 snaps - but his coach was still happy with his outing:
“Yeah, I thought Anton was another one that you really saw his aggressiveness, you saw his athleticism, again, some things we can clean up and improve upon. I thought overall he did a nice job, first time out. He really showed the type of player that he is and the reason why we drafted him.”
Josh Pederson snapping. After Ross Matiscik forced fumble he injured shoulder. He tried to give it a go but Logan Cooke basically shut him down. Pederson not getting speed on snap but it worked that time. Cooke is really good. Keep eye on it on CBS47 pic.twitter.com/9sZPobFgpW— Brent Martineau (@BrentASJax) August 12, 2023
The news of Bartch’s return to training was welcome, especially at a position that has some lingering questions. But the Jaguars weren’t so lucky elsewhere on Saturday; long snapper Ross Matiscik was banged up making a play on a muffed punt, for which Pederson gave an update:
“Yeah, Ross injured his right shoulder on the special teams play making the tackle there. He’s going to be fine, he’ll just be a little sore, so he’s kind of day-to-day. We’ll see how he is in Detroit this week, but probably leaning towards holding him out if he’s sore. I don’t want to have any setbacks with him at this point. But day-to-day, we’ll see where he is at the end of the week.”
That decision appears to have been made, with Jacksonville bringing back Carson Tinker. Tinker first signed with the Jags as a UDFA ten years ago, and the long snapper spent six seasons in Duval County. But on Saturday it was tight end Josh Pederson - son of head coach Doug - who assumed duties. Pederson explained the thought process:
“Him [Josh Pederson] and Adam Gotsis are the two that have gotten the most snaps, Adam’s gotten probably the most number two snaps but it was an opportunity for Josh to see what he could do. Adam was all taped up with his gloves and everything, he would’ve had to come out of those and put them back on, and we just said, ‘You know what?’ We also knew too, that on special teams during the game, things were going to be very vanilla, they were going to be straight rushes. They were putting a lot of pressure on the centers in the game, so it took a little heat off that way, but Josh was up for it. My hat’s off to him, it’s his first time he’s ever done it in a game, and he did it on the road in Dallas.”
Heading to Motown
Joint practices are in vogue in the NFL. To add a different element to their preseason preparations, the Jaguars head to Detroit this week to scrimmage with the Lions ahead of their game this Saturday. Pederson spoke through the advantages of competing against another team on the practice field:
“I think you can see a lot, for us offensively and defensively, it’s a different style. We’ve been practicing against a 3-4 base defense here. Now, we’re going to go against a four-down front in Detroit. Same thing offensively, you’re going to see a lot of the same things probably from Detroit, the play action, the movement game. It’s just good to really see it in a little bit different perspective because we know our defense, our defense knows our offense, and sometimes it just goes back and forth where not too many people win. Here, you get to compete against another team in a controlled environment. Your starters are going to get the bulk of work this week and you’re still evaluating. We’re still in training camp and evaluating. The fact that we get to see a different team, a different structure, those are all things that are beneficial to us as a football team.”
So how would the joint practices with the Lions affect the decision-making ahead of game 2? Pederson was looking to up the ante:
“Well, this week is going to be different just because we’re at joint practices in Detroit. The starters are going to get the bulk of the work. I haven’t made a decision yet on playtime this week, but it doesn’t deter how I handle the starters in preseason. I just want to make sure that they get enough of the game feel, the game reps, when the bullets are flying, that they’re prepared for week one in Indianapolis. It’s more about that, but this will be a big week and something that my message will resonate through the football team that we do have to start games faster.”
After tasting scoreboard success against the Cowboys, preseason moves on swiftly for the Jaguars, with one eye on being ready for that game against the Colts on September 10. With a lot of work to be done between now and then, nobody will be considering the trip to Detroit a vacation.