The fallout of the Jaguars' horrid 12-8 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be felt in the locker room Thursday night.
Moments after Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone publicly announced a quarterback competition between Blake Bortles and Chad Henne, the locker room population became sparse.
A few stragglers stuck around to speak to media members about what was universally considered a frustrating evening.
It was hard to spin the lackluster performance that mimicked the team's disastrous run-in with the Cincinnati Bengals during last year's third preseason game. Coincidentally, both embarrassing outings were nationally televised, offering up the Jaguars' struggles in front of a large audience.
Tampa Bay's defense shut out Jacksonville's offense in the first half. The Buccaneers' offense produced three scoring drives against the majority of the Jaguars' first team defense.
The Jaguars' offensive line and running backs allowed two sacks off blitzes and failed to move the ball on the ground. Jacksonville's defensive line failed to consistently create pressure on Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who was able to carve up the Jaguars' makeshift secondary.
“It’s very frustrating just knowing how hard we’ve worked,” guard Tyler Shatley said following the game.
“Not that we didn’t work hard in previous years, but this year I feel like we’ve really just been nose to the grindstone. Going after it, trying to focus on those little things that we felt tripped us up last year, so it is very frustrating. That’s part of football. Sometimes you’re going out there and you’re not going to be able to move the ball and you’ve got to adapt, you’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
While some players were irritated by their production (or lack thereof), others shifted their focus to the next week.
The luxury of the preseason is that the games have no impact on the standings. Realizing there is little to be gained by sulking over an exhibition loss, most of the veterans displayed optimism instead of regret.
“It’s not too bad, it’s just the next play,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Come back tomorrow, learn what we can from it and then get to work on Carolina.”
While Campbell kept a positive attitude after the game, he was surprised to learn that the starting quarterback job was now up for competition.
The veteran, who signed with the Jaguars in March, complimented both potential starting quarterbacks. Campbell also said he would not sweat the uncertainty at the most important position on the team.
“I’ve learned to control what I can control,” Campbell said. “I can’t worry about things I can’t control. One thing I do believe is that Chad is a good quarterback and Blake is a good quarterback."
The former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman has seen plenty of quarterbacks come and go during his career. He has also worked against the two candidates for the starting job.
"I’ve played against Chad in a game before and he did some really good things a couple of years back, but going against Blake in practice, he has some really good days on top of days when he looks incredible and days where he looks not so good and that’s football," Campbell said. "It’s training camp, really, and you’re up and down and you try to have a lot more good days than bad days.”
Fellow defensive lineman Abry Jones knows all about bad days. He has been with the Jaguars since 2013 and has won just 15 games in the NFL.
A former undrafted free agent, Jones knows what it's like to be a fringe guy on a team still trying to figure out major starting positions in the middle of the preseason. On Thursday, the starting offense played into the third quarter, offering little time for depth players to strut their stuff.
While the limited action may be damning, Jones believes the players who approach their minor opportunities with the right attitude will make the strongest impression on the team's decision-makers.
“Really, you’ve just got to look down deep inside and figure out if this something you really want,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “Not getting a lot of reps, coaches barely know who you are, so it’s either you want to play ball or you just want someone to hand you something. So once you realize you want to play ball, you have to take advantage of all your reps.”
The entire Jaguars roster will look to bounce back and find more clarity against the Carolina Panthers next week. The all-important third preseason game could determine the fates of not only the quarterbacks but several others on the Jacksonville roster.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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