The Jacksonville Jaguars start the preseason slate on Thursday night with a 7:30 game at the New England Patriots.
The Jacksonville Jaguars finished with a disappointing 8-8 record last year, losing four straight to end the season. Although they improved on their 2009 record of 7-9, the Jags were certainly hoping for more. Now the team is in an unusual in-between stage: Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew is in his prime, starting quarterback David Garrard is entering the sunset of his career, while rookie quarterback and first round draft pick Blaine Gabbert starts the season has a huge unknown.
Winning means nothing for the preseason, but these early games do offer vital glimpses into the makeup of the Jags roster. Here are some stories to keep on eye on:
- The Quarterback Battle - Can David Garrard stay healthy and perform well enough to start one more year? More importantly, does Blaine Gabbert show early promise? Starting the year as a backup, Gabbert will receive a hefty portion of playing time during the preseason. Hopefully for Jags fans, he can dice up any second-string defense sent against him.
- The RB's Health - The great Maurice Jones-Drew can take over a game on his own, but last year, he sustained a knee injury that cost him the final two games. If he shows any ill affects from the injury, the Jaguars offense will likely struggle mightily.
- The Defense - According to Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) statistic, the Jaguars had the league's worst defense in 2010. That's not good.
According to Big Cat Country contributor Brad Hill, the Jags may have the defensive lineman necessary to start that turnaround. Hill names DE Austen Lane, DT Tyson Alualu, and DE Aaron Morgan as players on the rise. Terrible in both run stopping and pass rushing in 2010, the 2011 Jaguars need a lot of everything on defense, and that starts with the line.
The Jaguars and New England Patriots kick off the preseason Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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