It’s football time, folks, and we’re back again with the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country answers 5 quick questions about the upcoming preseason matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars:
What is the position for the Jaguars battle Saints fans can focus in on in the first preseason game?
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in completely unfamiliar territory in 2018 compared to the last several seasons. In past years, there would be several key position battles to keep track of during training camp and the preseason, This current Jaguars team is pretty much set with starters all across the board. So, honestly, it’s more of figuring out depth and rotation at this point.
With that said, the nickel cornerback position is one to watch. The Jags are looking to fill the void that Aaron Colvin left in the slot after he moved on in free agency. D.J. Hayden was brought in during free agency to fill the role, but Tyler Patmon and undrafted rookie Tre Herndon have been turning heads at training camp. I would still say that Hayden is the favorite, but based off of recent comments from defensive coordinator Todd Wash, he is not a lock.
One position I was expecting to see a battle for was the strong-side (SAM) linebacker position. I expected Blair Brown to battle for (and win) the spot against seventh-round draft pick Leon Jacobs, but the job appears to be Jacobs’ to lose with Brown working exclusively at the weak-side linebacker (WILL) spot. Other than that, the only other thing to watch is how the wide receiver depth or defensive line rotation shakes out...and this is a really good problem to have.
How many reps do you anticipate for starters like Leonard Fournette, Blake Bortles, and AJ Bouye?
Generally, we’ll see starters play two or three series in the first preseason game. I wouldn’t expect to see anymore than that for any of the players mentioned above and the majority of the starters. It’s possible the coaching staff may want to be a little bit more cautious with Fournette given his injury history. The Jaguars were actually extremely lucky on the injury front in 2017. They’ll want to keep that going and limit the reps for starters in preseason Week 1.
Is there a back-up QB that could play in this game that has the potential to push Bortles out of the starting job in 2018?
Jacksonville traded for Cody Kessler, a former starter for the Cleveland Browns, in March. Kessler has looked good in training camp, but let’s get this out of the way now -- Blake Bortles is the unquestioned starter of this team. The media and Jaguar fans have been hard on Bortles in the past, and rightfully so sometimes, but he has had the best training camp of his career thus far.
Bortles is confident, poised and healthier than he was in 2017 after offseason wrist surgery. His teammates have his back as well. Bortles is coming off of the most efficient season of his career, and was a huge reason for the playoff success last season by making plays with his arms and legs and not turning the ball over once. He will always be the question mark of this team, but all signs are pointing to a solid, if not exceptional, year for Bortles. He just has to work on his consistency.
Not for the preseason, but in the regular season, what are general expectations from the fan base? Is another deep postseason run in sight?
Optimism is high in Duval -- and it should be. This team is stacked from top-to-bottom with an elite defense that features two All-Pro cornerbacks in A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, a monstrous defensive line across the board, led by fellow All-Pro Calais Campbell, and two extremely gifted linebackers in Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Offensively this team wants to run the ball down your throat with LSU legend Leonard Fournette and newly signed (yet another) All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell. The wide receiver group is young, and looks underwhelming on paper, but it is a much-more talented group than given credit for.
As close as this team got to a Super Bowl last year, this group is completely focused on 2018 and the players have been going through ridiculously grueling training camp sessions to prepare. The team is finally starting to garner national attention, but still seems to feel as if there is a big chip on its collective shoulder. If the Jaguars can stay healthy, this is a championship-caliber team. The squad just needs to stay the course and not buy into the hype.
Just for fun: what’s the final score of the game? Who scores the first Jacksonville TD?
Ahh, always hard to predict a preseason score, but let’s do it! I expect a close game, and I think this would be a really fun regular season matchup. Let’s say Jags 24, Saints 21. I have a strange feeling that Corey Grant is going to score early in this game. Grant is the Jaguars speedy third-string tailback, but many expect to see him get a lot of touches this season behind Fournette and T.J. Yeldon.
Thank-you, Ryan, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Ryan and the work his guys are doing over at Big Cat Country. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanOBleness, Big Cat Country @BitCatCountry, and of course you can follow me @dunnellz.