The Jacksonville Jaguars are 2-0 this preseason and will look to continue their momentum in a home contest against the Dolphins in their final exhibition before the regular season kicks off. Fans will get their first extended look at the starters in 2023, as head coach Doug Pederson made it clear that the first unit will play a quarter or two in the contest.
Jaguars HC Doug Pederson plans to play QB Trevor Lawrence and starters 1.5-2 quarters in preseason finale vs. Dolphins Saturday. A dress rehearsal with goal of a clean operation.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 24, 2023
Dolphins DC Vic Fangio: “Trevor Lawrence is a real dude. And he’ll be a real good test for us.”
To this point, we’ve seen players with varying degrees of expectations show out in the team’s first two preseason games, which begs the question: who will prove to be an X-factor this week?
Here are three names to keep an eye on ahead of Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff.
Jeremiah Ledbetter is coming off a monstrous performance against Detroit where he had a sack and a forced fumble. He seemed to consistently create interior pressure whenever he was in the game. This came off the heels of another solid outing against the Cowboys the week prior in which he also had a sack.
Stacking games in the preseason is exactly what a guy like Ledbetter needs to do to make the 53-man roster, and at this point, it feels as though he’s locked up his spot.
While securing his position on the roster is a great feat for a player who has been a bit of a journeyman to this point in his career, Ledbetter suddenly finds himself in position to have a much larger role after the recent DaVon Hamilton injury. With the incumbent starter sidelined for the time being, the Jaguars will need one of their rotational interior linemen to step up in his absence, and Pederson mentioned Ledbetter as a guy who could do just that.
With another solid performance against the Dolphins, Ledbetter could separate himself as the man for the job as he looks to prove he can make an impact on this defense in 2023.
The Jaguars have had a lot of bad luck in the injury department when it comes to their offensive line of late. It started when swing tackle Josh Wells pulled up lame with an injury during joint practices in Detroit last week and got worse when guards Chandler Brewer and Cooper Hodges went down on game day. On top of that, first-round rookie tackle Anton Harrison has been dealing with a shoulder issue, while guard Tyler Shatley is still going through treatment for his Atrial Fibrillation diagnosis.
With so much misfortune in such a short period of time, the team was due some good news as Pederson announced that Ben Bartch would be returning this week. The left guard has been out since Week 5 of last season with a knee injury and is set to play against the Dolphins on Saturday night.
#Jaguars HC Doug Pederson noted that Ben Bartch will return this week (he came off PUP last week) and that should mitigate some of the injuries the team has on the interior of the OL.— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) August 21, 2023
Bartch has started 16 games over the last two years but finds himself in an uphill battle to win his job back. Shatley replaced Bartch last year, and assuming he is cleared for contact before Week 1, Shatley is expected to hold onto the team’s left guard job.
However, with so many injuries on the line right now, Bartch should be looked at as an X-factor against the Dolphins this weekend. He will be tasked with keeping Trevor Lawrence upright for however long he’s in the game, which will be the key to not only the success of the starters but to him proving he can still be a valuable piece to the unit this season.
After being selected with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Travon Walker would go on to have an up-and-down rookie season that saw the Georgia product finish with just 3.5 sacks on the year. While the production wasn’t exactly what you want from a top pick, Walker had flashes that should still have fans excited about his potential going forward. He was always thought of as a little raw to begin with, so his slow start wasn’t a huge surprise.
However, the expectations for Walker will increase significantly going into year two. He’s had rave reviews throughout training camp, even earning praise from defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, who commented on Walker’s growth after practice earlier this month.
“You love to see the continual improvement in the run game, which was strong last year. We just need him to step that up. Then in the pass game, you see the rushes. At times, he’s winning on the edge. He’s powering and he’s countering now. His toolbox is expanding and you see the progress going on.”
The Jaguars will need Walker to take a leap in order to reach their lofty expectations in 2023, and that leap starts against the Dolphins on Saturday. With the starters set to play their first significant snaps of the season, Walker will have a chance to showcase at least a sample of his improvement. If he can show tangible growth in one half of a preseason game, then Travon Walker isn’t just an X-factor in this particular contest, but he will be set up to be arguably the biggest X-factor on the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2023.
Who will you be watching for this weekend, Jags fans?