Gridiron Preseason Preview: Jaguars at Bills

With a threatening quarterback controversy now resolved, David Garrard and the Jaguars resume their preparations for the upcoming regular season with Saturday’s visit to Ralph Wilson Stadium for a battle with the Bills.

Garrard, the Jaguars’ regular signal-caller for the past five seasons, had been believed to be in a heated competition with highly-touted rookie Blaine Gabbert for the starting job heading into the team’s most recent preseason game. However, Gabbert — the team’s 2011 first-round draft choice — didn’t show enough in last week’s matchup with Atlanta to unseat the veteran incumbent for the role.

Gabbert was shaky after replacing Garrard in Jacksonville’s 15-13 win over the Falcons, completing just 11-of-23 throws for a mere 96 yards in roughly two quarter’s worth of action. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio announced on Tuesday that Garrard would start the team’s Week 1 game against Tennessee, barring injury.

Garrard, who sat out Jacksonville’s 47-12 loss at New England in the preseason opener with a sore back, wasn’t particularly impressive either against Atlanta, compiling 99 yards on 7-of-12 passing and throwing an interception.

Del Rio is planning on the starters playing extensively in Saturday’s contest, though a few key players will remain held out for precautionary reasons. That list will again include running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who’s yet to take the field in the preseason as he recovers from offseason knee surgery.

Defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee surgery), offensive tackle Eben Britton (back) and running back/kick returner Deji Karim (concussion) have also been ruled out for Jacksonville.

Bills head coach Chan Gailey, meanwhile, hopes to use Saturday’s clash as an opportunity to jump-start an offense that’s been sluggish in each of his team’s two preseason outings.

Buffalo mustered just 190 total yards in a 10-3 road loss to Chicago on Aug. 13 and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was ineffective in last Saturday’s 24-10 defeat at Denver, hitting on only 6-of-16 attempts for 44 yards while being intercepted once.

Backup Tyler Thigpen threw for 118 yards in relief and accounted for the Bills’ lone touchdown of this preseason with a 13-yard strike to reserve receiver Felton Huggins in the fourth quarter.

Fitzpatrick will spend Saturday operating an offense that will likely be without two of its top three receivers, Donald Jones (head) and Roscoe Parrish (hamstring), while the Bills’ defense could be minus three projected starters — outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay and rookie end Marcell Dareus.

Dareus, the No. 3 overall pick in this past April’s draft, injured his left ankle in practice on Wednesday and is doubtful to participate. The 21-year-old had gotten his pro career off to an excellent start, notching a sack in each of the last two weeks.

The oft-injured Merriman had two sacks in the Chicago game but sat out against the Broncos with a sore right knee. Kelsay will be unavailable after undergoing minor eye surgery earlier in the week.

These teams have never previously met in the preseason, but have faced one another 10 times before in meaningful play. The last such occurrence took place at Ralph Wilson Stadium during Week 5 of the 2010 season, with Jacksonville posting a 36-26 win to even the all-time series at 5-5.

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