Two down, one to go; the Jacksonville Jaguars ready themselves for the visit of the Miami Dolphins as final preparations for the 2023 regular season are made. With head coach Doug Pederson already confirming that the starters will play the first half at EverBank Stadium, there is plenty on the line. Can the first team units find that extra cohesion before Week 1 in Indianapolis? And can anyone on the roster bubble further their case, with cuts looming? Here are three matchups to keep an eye out for on Saturday:
Jaguars front seven vs Dolphins run game
Saying Devon Achane is fast is an understatement.— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) August 19, 2023
Miami brings plenty of speed up I-95. A lot has been made of the Dolphins’ electric receiving duo, and should they get extended snaps in the final preseason tilt, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will give the Jaguars’ corners some headaches. But the quickness within this offense doesn’t end there; Miami’s running back room may be the fastest in the NFL and will challenge Jacksonville’s defensive front regardless as to who is carrying the football.
Raheem Mostert, Salvon Ahmed, Myles Gaskin, and Jeff Wilson were well-rotated in 2022, and identifying the starter in this offense appears to be a fool’s errand. They’ve been joined this year by third-round draft pick De’Von Achane, widely regarded as the fastest running back in the 2022 class with a 40 time of 4.32 seconds. Considering the worrying injury to DaVon Hamilton, Foley Fatukasi’s absence from the Lions game, and Dawuane Smoot’s continuance on the PUP list, the Jaguars' D-line may have their hands full in plugging the gaps and shutting down this run game.
That being said, there aren’t many teams in the league who have invested the amount of resources into their linebacker group as Jacksonville has. The best way to combat speed is with more speed, and it’s fair to argue that the Jaguars are quick at the second level. Devin Lloyd was born to hunt down ball carriers, and the quickness of Travon Walker and Josh Allen should theoretically allow this defense to set the edge and funnel inside. And if Miami tries to get physical between the tackles, then they can deal with Foye Oluokun and Chad Muma, two big hitters always eager to dish out some punishment. This battle should be a fun watch.
Press Taylor vs Vic Fangio
“Trevor Lawrence is a real dude. And he’ll be a real good test for us.” - Vic Fangio pic.twitter.com/WURF4HjUO5— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) August 22, 2023
Okay, so this may be just a preseason game. And the coordinators on both teams will likely be more preoccupied with their own units than the traditional game of mental chess you see in the regular season. But the guys on the field aren’t the only ones gearing up for real competition - the coaching staff will want to sharpen their minds too…
Jaguars OC Press Taylor oversaw a significant turnaround with his unit in 2022. A season that started with a splutter ended with a dangerous, diverse offense that could go toe to toe with any in the league. The rise of Trevor Lawrence, along with the development of the weapons at his disposal and in the backfield, is probably the biggest reason for the optimism in Duval County that this team is set to compete with the best in the AFC.
In theory, Taylor should have a tough test awaiting him on Saturday. Vic Fangio may have just celebrated his 65th birthday, but he’s one of the brightest, most innovative defensive minds in NFL history. After one year as a consultant in Philadelphia following a tough two years at the helm in Denver, Fangio steps back into a coordinator role in Miami. Eight seasons of success in similar roles with both the 49ers (2011-2014) and Bears (2015-2018) suggests he will have this Dolphins defense ready to compete - and Miami allowed just three points against the Texans last week. Monitoring the adjustments these two talented coaches make to counter each other through this contest should make for interesting viewing.
Elijah Cooks vs Tim Jones vs Kevin Austin vs Seth Williams
It’s preseason. And whilst it’s exciting to have real football against real opponents, it can be easy to forget that the biggest thing on the line for most Jaguars this week isn’t a win or loss - it’s a place on the roster.
Wide receiver appears to be one of the most intriguing battlegrounds in Jacksonville. It’s probably reasonable to suggest that five spots have been locked down; Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones, and Christian Kirk are the undisputed starters, with Jamal Agnew the wildcard, multi-functional weapon, and Parker Washington looking like he’s cemented himself as a backup on both offense and special teams.
Depending on how Pederson wants his 53 to be made up, that should leave one spot open for another receiver to latch on to. Tim Jones went into camp as the favorite after making the roster last year. But is that still the case? He’s fighting it out with Kevin Austin and Seth Williams, who both spent time on the practice squad last season and earned some glowing reviews from the coaching staff. And then there’s undrafted rookie Elijah Cooks, who is certainly making a name for himself this preseason. The former San Jose State Spartan reeled off an impressive 45-yard catch and run against the Lions, and currently leads all Jaguars receivers this offseason with a PFF grade of 89.4.
Cooks might also offer the receiver room something a little different. At 6’4” and 215lbs, Cooks had a reputation as something of a possession receiver at SJSU, and his size and power could give the offense an extra dimension once the regular season begins. But make no mistake - with 60 minutes of preseason football still to go, there is still an opportunity for one of these guys to stake their claim.
What are you looking forward to seeing on Saturday?