Jaguars vs. Patriots, 10 Observations: Quarterbacks make good decisions, Cole could be a real steal

Jaguars vs. Patriots Recap: Beat writer Mike Kaye breaks down the preseason opener

The Jaguars broke loose for big plays in all four quarters, as Jacksonville was able to secure a 31-24 victory over the New England Patriots in the preseason opener in Foxborough, Massachusetts. 

Despite the absence of a handful of notable players and the limited action of the starters, the Jaguars were able to add some optimism to their preseason.

With the second round of joint practices on the horizon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jaguars can now head into the next week feeling a little bit better about their depth.

Let's take a look at 10 quick observations from the preseason opener:

1. The quarterbacks made good decisions with the football against the Patriots' defense.

While quarterback Blake Bortles was limited to just two series, he did show some growth as a decision-maker. He simply took what the Patriots' defense gave him.

Bortles spent most of the night handing off the ball to his running backs, and if all goes well this season, that will be a frequent occurrence on Sundays. 

Bortles finished 3-of-5 for 16 yards. His two incompletions were a drop by wide receiver Rashad Greene and a throw away pass in the red zone on the Jaguars' first scoring drive.

Backup quarterback Chad Henne completed 5-of-6 passes for 139 passing yards and a touchdown. He broke the game open with a 97-yard connection to undrafted wide receiver Keelan Cole (more on him later) in the second quarter. Henne was as good as he has been all offseason.

Even third-string quarterback Brandon Allen had a strong night. He completed 5-of-7 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. The score came on a 42-yard throw to rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook in the end zone.

The Jaguars have to feel good about the trio's performance. There were no miscues or turnovers on their watch, which makes the night all that more successful.

 

2. The running game might actually be a major threat this year.

First-round running back Leonard Fournette offers a burst unparalleled by anyone in his position group. His first two runs were for four and five yards and he pretty much earned them on his burst alone. Fournette thrives on running into contact and it showed on Thursday. 

During his debut, the game never looked difficult for him, even when his blockers failed to give him space. He exploded out of the backfield on a fourth-and-inches run and picked up eight yards to keep a drive alive. Despite some other impressive runs on the night, that may have been the most notable. The Jaguars struggled mightily in short-yardage situations last season and Fournette could be an escape from that torment. 

Veteran Chris Ivory started the game at running back and offered up a 15-yard run. The rest of his night was uneventful, but he looks like he is running with more confidence compared to last season.

While T.J. Yeldon's night was pretty bland, it's clear the Jaguars like him as the third-down back due to his receiving and blocking prowess.

There has been a lot of talk about third-year running back Corey Grant not making the team. He may have put those words to rest against the Patriots. He had a rough start to the game with a bobbled kickoff return but bounced back with authority on offense in the second half. 

Grant's 79-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play of the third quarter offered up everything you need to know about the speedster. If Grant gets an opening on the edge, the opposing defense is in for a rough ride.

Grant is still in the running for the kickoff return job. However, that may not matter if he is already lighting it up on offense.

 

3. Dear quarterbacks, try to avoid Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue at all costs.

The second-year defensive end had his way with Patriots offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle in limited action. Ngakoue was able to get a sack and a quarterback hit on Jimmy Garoppolo in just two series.

For all of the (deserved) grief general manager Dave Caldwell receives about his draft history, Ngakoue may be the gem of his tenure. Linebacker Telvin Smith was a steal, but Ngakoue could be a long-term force at a more important position.

Ngakoue set the franchise rookie record last season with eight sacks. The bar should be raised into the double digits this season if he can stay healthy throughout.

 

4. The offensive line did its job.

The offensive line protected all three quarterbacks well against the Patriots.

Rookie left tackle Cam Robinson held his ground throughout his debut performance. His standout play actually came on Bortles' throw away toss into the back of the end zone. Bortles was given several seconds to scan the red zone for open receivers because Robinson was able to handle rookie defensive end Derek Rivers.

Robinson had his struggles as a run blocker, as he left his feet on a few occasion while having little positive impact on runs. Still, overall Robinson looked like he could handle the blindside duties in limited action.

In the running game, I was particularly impressed by left guard Patrick Omameh, who opened up a huge hole for Ivory for the 15-yard run to start the game. He also helped open up the hole for Fournette on his eight-yard gain on fourth-and-inches. It's time to anoint Omameh as the starter at left guard.

Veteran Josh Wells started at right tackle. He didn't have a strong night, but it's clear the team wants to use him as the top tackle off the bench.

 

5. It's still a work in progress for Myles Jack at middle linebacker.

The second-year linebacker seemed comfortable lining up the defense in his debut at middle linebacker. However, he took some poor tackling angles and missed on a few attempts against New England.

Jack was all over the place at the position and stopped a pair of big potential gains in the open field, but he needs to find consistency in the middle. He needs to be able to get off blocks faster against the run and that will probably come with more time at the position.

On a positive note, you could definitely see his speed on display against the Patriots. He had a few run fits where he closed holes in a flash. 

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6. Injuries forced several notable players to the sideline.

The Jaguars' injury "inactive" list featured a handful of important players, including the top three cornerbacks, the starting right tackle and the biggest offseason addition on the defensive line.

Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin, right tackle Jermey Parnell, defensive end Calais Campbell and wide receiver Allen Hurns were among the 10 players sidelined for the preseason opener.

The injuries tested the Jaguars' depth, forcing reserve players into more prominent roles. 

7. The Jaguars' cornerback depth is still a concern.

While Tyler Patmon, Brian Dixon and Josh Johnson did an admirable job early on in the contest, the entire cornerback group still seems underwhelming.

Patmon and Johnson seem to be the leaders in the clubhouse for the fourth and fifth spots, but their competition isn't all that stellar. The Jaguars could look for waiver wire additions after final cuts.

Some of the deep depth at cornerback may want to make sure their passports are active for trips to the Canadian Football League.

8. Wide receiver Keelan Cole could be the real deal steal for the Jaguars.

Cole received a lot of praise during the first two weeks of training camp and deservedly so. On Thursday, he had two very impressive catches that will only expand his offseason legend.

Cole's 97-yard go route touchdown was special and he had an equally impressive route and catch on an 11-yard reception in the second half. 

Cole is competing with Greene and Shane Wynn for the sixth receiver spot.

He made an excellent play on the first kickoff coverage opportunity of the night. He tackled Patriots returner Cyrus Jones at the 15-yard line after a 13-yard gain. Special teams will help Cole make the roster, as will the big plays.

 

9. Jason Myers deserves the benefit of the doubt for now.

The Jaguars kicker is known for his long field goal success, but he missed two attempts of over 50 yards against the Patriots. He has faced no competition throughout the offseason and shouldn't unless he falters over the next two weeks. 

On the bright side, he made all four of his extra points attempts.

 

10. The fullback competition may be more complicated than we think.

The Jaguars started Tommy Bohanon at fullback on Thursday. He didn't make much of an impact as a blocker and he wasn't used as a receiver. 

The Jaguars also used tight end Alex Ellis as an H-Back at one point. Is he the solution to Bohanon's struggles and Marquez Williams' inexperience? 

Ellis is a very good blocker and the Jaguars may want to keep him on the roster as a fourth tight end/fullback if it saves a roster spot somewhere else. 

It's something worth monitoring moving forward.

Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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