The Jaguars opened the preseason with a 20-17 win over the Falcons, but it, in the preseason, its not the final score that matters. Instead, it’s the individual battles that we’ll watch.
The big winners from Saturday night’s game were fullback Greg Jones, and rookies defensive ends Quentin Groves, Mkristo Bruce and fellow rookie Brian Witherspoon.
Jones, now two years removed from his second ACL surgery showed a flash of speed in a 14 yard gain, and finished with 5 carries for 39 yards.
“We’ve been seeing the burst in practice,” said head coach Jack Del Rio. “He’s a great kid and we’re really glad to see him back. We think he can carry the ball as well as play fullback.”
Jones seldom carried the ball last year, but was a first alternate to the AFC Pro Bowl squad at fullback. With Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew on the roster, Jones isn’t likely to see a ton of carries, but the ability to run in short yardage is there. So is the opportunity to use him at the end of games, when his power would be an even bigger advantage against tiring defenses.
Jones did show some speed, but it was nothing compared to rookie returner/cornerback Brian Witherspoon, who was just a blur on several of his returns, including a 37 yard punt return.
“The speed that Witherspoon really showed up,” said Del Rio. “Obviously, we want him to protect the football, but he can go. We’re going to give him a look and see if he can add a dimension to our return game.”
Witherspoon, however, also fumbled on one punt return. One of three lost fumbles, all by Jaguars rookies (Chauncey Washington and Lavarius Giles, also coughed it up).
“The one glaring thing that I’m not happy with is the number of times that the ball was on the ground. Ball security is a must. We’ll work on that, I promise you,” Del Rio said.
Groves, the Jaguars second round pick, disrupted a number of plays, including a sack and a tackle for loss. How he holds up against the run is going to be the next thing to watch.
“It was a bit faster than what I expected,” the rookie from Auburn admitted. “It felt great to get my first NFL sack, even if it was in preseason.”
After the game, Groves got a handful of shaving cream in the face, courtesy of left tackle Khalif Barnes.
The rookie who led the Jaguars with 2 ½ sacks on Saturday night was basically an afterthought. Mkristo Bruce, who was signed before camp just in case Derrick Harvey held out, took advantage of his opportunity.
“He had 14 sacks one year at Washington State. He has some natural rush ability,” Del Rio said. “We told him when we signed him if Harvey signs, he’d be gone in one day. He’s done a nice job taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Witherspoon, Bruce and Giles are among the undrafted rookies who are trying to join the list of Jaguars who have made the squad without being drafted.
“We’ve had undrafted college free agents make our football team. It’s true competition,” said Del Rio. “You find good players in college free agency right now:undrafted guys. We give them a chance to compete.”
Two receivers who received a lot of attention in camp, Matt Jones and Mike Walker, returned mixed reviews. Jones made a couple of nice catches, including coming back to the ball along the sideline, but also showed some of the sloppy route running that has been a problem for him in the past.
Walker, playing in his first game in two years, may have been a bit nervous as he dropped a couple of catchable balls.
“We needed to settle Down Mike Walker and get the ball in his hands,” said quarterback David Garrard.