Mondays aren't really fun for anyone, which is why I was surprised when I woke up this morning and felt energized and excited. Then I remembered why: it's Jags Week!
That's right, exhibition football is back for the New England Patriots as they welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Foxboro this week for a Thursday night preseason match up. The teams will have a few joint practices to start the week. Belichick has always been a big proponent of joint practices because they allow you to gauge how well one's players are developing by seeing them face actual competition. They also let coaches view opposing players; his joint practices with the Saints is what led him to become interested in acquiring Brandin Cooks. This will be a crucial week for the players on the roster bubble because they will have to work hard and prove themselves against another team who won't be taking it easy on them.
The Jaguars are a conundrum. Over the past three to four years, they have had a massive infusion of talent from young players and veterans - Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, TJ Yeldon, Chris Ivory, Dante Fowler, Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsay. Yet they have not seemed to be able to put it all together. Some blame that on former head coach Gus Bradley, while others believe the blame should rest on the shoulders of Blake Bortles. Both parties are probably right. Gus Bradley did not know how to get the most out of the talent that he had, and Blake Bortles, while talented, hasn't lived up to expectations considering the talent that he has around him on the offensive end.
Bortles' play will be a major factor in the Jaguars success this season. If he plays to his ability, Jacksonville should be able to make the race for the AFC South more interesting (though the Texans and the Titans are both still the better teams). If he does not, it will be another year of young talent squandered, and the Jaguars will once again be on the hunt for a franchise quarterback.
On the offensive side the drafting of Leonard Fournette should make life easier for Bortles, if Fournette can play even half as well as he did in college. On the defensive side of the ball bringing in veteran Calaias Campbell was huge. While it's still the first week of the preseason and there cannot be much drawn from this, it will be interesting to see how they look against a strong Patriots second team.
Other things to watch for this week:
- Last week was a rough week for the Patriots in terms of minor injuries. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Matthew Slater all went down in one day, and Nate Solder also missed some time. None of those injuries were severe, and were probably due in part to the oppressive heat and the intensity of practice. It will be interesting to keep an eye on how the Patriots manage those injuries come Thursday night. While starters usually only play one or two series in the first preseason game anyway, the Patriots may sit some of these players just to avoid any issues.
- Jimmy Garopollo has not performed well throughout training camp. He has thrown a number of interceptions, and has had a poor showing with his accuracy even on wide open receivers. He was also made to run a lap with Ted Karras after being unable to get a good snap off, which shouldn't be an issue that he is dealing with in his fourth year. However, he did not perform particularly well in training camp last year, and we all saw how he looked when it came to actual game-play. Despite being behind Tom Brady on the depth chart, this is essentially a contract year for Jimmy G. If he wants to get a big offer from the Patriots or another team in the offseason, he will need to make these preseason games count.
- The depth chart came out this week, and while it is way to early to draw major conclusions from it, there are some small things to notice. New running back Mike Gillislee is currently behind Brandon Bolden on the depth chart, which is unexpected considering many believed him to be the featured back. Rookie tight end Jacob Hollister is currently marked as third string along with Matt Lengel. He appears to be fighting for that third tight end (or potentially practice squad) position with Lengel, and will have a lot riding on these next few weeks. Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones are both behind Justin Coleman on the depth chart. That will be an interesting contest, because I would expect the Patriots to only keep two out of those three players.
Get up and get excited everyone because real football is back! It's Jags Week!
Until next time - B$