And that’s preseason folks!
On Saturday, the Jacksonville Jaguars rounded off their training camp with an impressive 31-18 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Three warmup games have resulted in three wins; not that the score is necessarily the priority at this time of year. The performances, however, have been pleasing.
In his Monday press conference, head coach Doug Pederson alluded to a successful offseason program - which culminated in a team barbecue on Sunday. Pederson explained the thinking behind the event:
“Yeah, it went well. You’re winding camp down, it’s the last preseason game, it’s the last week, you know you’re going into this week and you’re down to your roster sizes and all that. It’s just a way for the players to have their families and just relax as an appreciation for all the hard work and time spent out on the field for everybody. It’s just a good way to relax and wind down at the end of this training camp.”
And there it is: A dark cloud looming over this football team, as Pederson, his staff and the front office prepare for the toughest few days of the season. Hosting a cookout for the team by way of thank you for a lot of hard work this offseason doesn’t disguise the fact that, of 90 players on this roster, 37 of them won’t be suiting up against the Indianapolis Colts on September 10. Considering the strong showing throughout training camp, Pederson acknowledged some hard decisions had to be made:
“We are finding that is real. We also know that there’s going to be some good football players that are going to have to be released. It’s a tough 24 hours or so here and around the league. It’s just a credit to Trent [Baalke] and his staff and the quality of athletes and players on this roster with the depth that we’ve brought to this team. It’s bittersweet, you’d love to keep them all but you can’t and you got to make the best decisions moving forward.”
Some of those decisions have already been made; with a 4 p.m. EST deadline on Tuesday, cuts are going to come quickly. At the time of writing, Kevin Austin (WR), Samuel Jackson (OT), Derek Parish (FB/TE), Jordan Smith (OLB) and Qadree Ollison (RB) have been let go. And no doubt by the time you read this, a host more names will be added to that list.
How the roster sauce is made
Jaguars are waiving wide receiver Kevin Austin.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 28, 2023
When asked about the cutting process, Pederson gave the media a peek behind the curtain of what will be a taxing and intense 24 hours of roster decisions:
“It’s a longer day and you’re doing a lot more guys. It’s challenging for the personnel and staff to do this many guys. I like the fact that we can keep everybody until the end because sometimes you let a guy go too soon when you haven’t really given him a chance to play in the last preseason game or take another look at him in practice or something like that. It’s a challenge that way, but I think it’s good that we can keep them and it just makes it a little bit more challenging for the personnel side.”
Pederson was asked about who and how decisions were made, and which staff would be in the room when the bad news had to be delivered. Predictably, there was a big emphasis put on giving each unfortunate player the best opportunity for their future career, even if it is elsewhere:
“For us, we meet as a staff. We meet offensively and defensively with Trent [general manager Trent Baalke] and his team. We go back through the roster one more time and put a plan together. Then, we just turn it over to the personnel department and let them begin the process of calling players and getting them in here. Then, coaches get to spend time with the player and do what we can to help them moving forward. If he’s a practice squad candidate, obviously we try to let him know we’d love to have him back on practice squad if possible. It’s a difficult day for everybody.”
One final point on the looming roster decisions; Pederson chose to add a bit of lighthearted relief when quizzed on how he would handle delivering bad news to his son (TE) Josh - should it come to it:
“I had to spank him at one point! Same thing. I would want to tell him, Trent [Baalke] would want to visit with him as well. I definitely would want to talk to him, he’s been through this process before with a couple of other teams last year and I’m very familiar with it as a former player. Just walk him through the process and let him know that everything is going to be okay.”
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie LB Ventrell Miller is out for the season due to an achilles injury, per sources. pic.twitter.com/3UtuuPIXFy— Football Transactions & News (@MaxPitkins) August 28, 2023
One slightly sour note as preseason came to its conclusion was how many injuries the Jaguars were collecting, particularly through the final two warmup games. Pederson gave a team update, which included some devastating news for rookie linebacker Ventrell Miller:
“DaVon [Hamilton] is in the building now, he’s here as we mentioned last week that he would be back in the building. I haven’t seen him yet, but I had a message from Ferg [Vice President of Player Health and Performance Jeff Ferguson] that he was in the building - so I’m looking forward to seeing him. I believe his wife is with him. It would be great to see him. Ventrell [Miller] unfortunately has an Achilles injury, so that’s a season-ending injury there with the Achilles. He’ll be missed. Foley [Fatukasi] is progressing nicely, I would anticipate him on the field this week with the group, so looking forward to getting him out there. Josh [Wells] is still nursing the injury and week-to-week with that. Cooper [Hodges] is not close yet, so he’s still going to miss some time.”
Further injury disclosures told us that linebackers K’Lavon Chaisson and Chad Muma were held out from the final preseason game with minor injuries to avoid setbacks, whilst offensive lineman Tyler Shatley would be ready for Week 1. Chaisson’s status on the roster remains a polarizing opinion amongst the fans, but Pederson expects him to contribute this season:
“He’s another one, I liked where he was at last year and how he came into training camp. He’s another one that’s going to get a lot of snaps this year, he’s going to be as a number three outside rusher. He’s going to play; he’s going to have to play at a high level. He understands that, so I’ve been pleased with where he’s at.”
The Jaguars’ coaching staff have been pretty transparent in their desire for an improved pass rush this season - and preseason performances haven’t fully allayed concerns. Despite that, Pederson suggested that the ability to add depth or upgrade the position might not be simple - or necessary:
“I think when you really look around the league, it might be a shortage of pass rushers that are out there. If they are, they’re on somebody’s team and they’re locked up for a few years. With that being said, we are pleased with where we are. I think Yasir’s [Abdullah] development as a young player did some nice things in the preseason but still has some work to do and some growth as he continues to get better. And Josh [Allen] and Travon [Walker] are now going into the regular season understanding where they need to be and how they need to affect the pass rush.”
“Where Foley [Fatukasi] was at the beginning of camp, he was dominant and he was aggressive. His foot kind of set him back a little bit, but we’re expecting him back this week and get him back to that full potential that he had early in camp. I guess the one for us, DaVon [Hamilton] was the shocker with everything, and we’re just happy that he’s healthy and heading into the right direction. But that’s a big one from a pass rush standpoint. Big bodies and pass rushers are hard to come by. You just got to continue to develop your guys.”
As turbulent as it will be for the roster for the next 24 hours, the final 53 is never set - and should other teams release talent, there’s a good chance that changes will be made right up to the start of the season. The Jaguars now enter a two-week period that will feel a lot different to the rest of the preseason - but Pederson is adamant there will be no let-off as he gets Jacksonville set for the trip to Indianapolis:
“You don’t want to go backwards; you don’t want to not push from a practice standpoint and all that. Yes, it is an opportunity to recharge and you don’t have the intensity of practicing and getting ready for a game this week, but at the same time, I want to maintain the sense of urgency as we head into the first week of the regular season.”
That first game of real football feels tantalizingly close. And, more importantly, the Jaguars feel ready for it.