The Jacksonville Jaguars will be kicking off one of the most anticipated preseason games at TIAA Bank Field in recent history this Friday night, with Doug Pederson leading a Trevor Lawrence-led offense onto the field for the first time against the Cleveland Browns.
The Jaguars will play key starters against the Browns outside of a few injured players. This will be a big shift from last week's Hall of Fame game, when the Jaguars sat Lawrence and 20 other players, many of them starters.
So, what will we have our eyes on as the Jaguars kick off against the Browns? We break it down below.
How Trevor Lawrence settles into Doug Pederson's scheme
All eyes will be on Trevor Lawrence on Friday night. It will be the former No. 1 pick's first time against an opposing defense since last year's Week 18 win over the Colts, which to date is Lawrence's best game as a pro. A year after Lawrence struggled out of the gate against the Browns in last year's season-opener, the hope now is the Jaguars see Lawrence get off to a quick start under Doug Pederson.
“For him, it’s important, but also for the offense. He’s got new faces, new people he’s working with, a new center, so just seeing all of it put together," Pederson said on Wednesday. "You just want to have some crisp plays, good execution, try to score a few points and get them out.”
If Lawrence and the offense struggle to move the ball, there will surely be some vocal reactions from the outside. But if they execute like Pederson thinks they can, then expect for the excitement and confidence surrounding Lawrence and his strong training camp to grow even more.
The right tackle and kicker battles take big steps
The two most important position battles on the roster will take another big step on Friday. Not only will the Jaguars have another chance for Ryan Santoso and Elliott Fry to stand out during the kicker battle, especially as the starting offense is on the field looking for scoring opportunities, but the Jaguars will also be rotating Jawaan Taylor and Walker Little at right tackle with the starting offense.
Santoso and Fry each attempted kicks in last week's game and have been in a up-and-down battle all camp, so Friday will be a very real chance for one kicker to separate himself from the other. Expect for Fry to get the first field goal chance but for each to have reps as long as the offense makes it possible.
As for the right tackle battle, the Jaguars saw Little play the entire first-half of last week's game. Taylor missed most of the first-half of training camp with a hamstring injury before returning this week and taking part in his first padded practices. Little has been better in practice than Taylor to this point, but live action like Friday will always be valued.
Travis Etienne's re-debut
One of the most fascinating aspects of Friday's game will surely be running back Travis Etienne. With James Robinson not playing, Etienne should be expected to take the lion's share of the reps with the first-team offense for the few drives they are on the field. Etienne's first preseason is better worth forgetting after he sparingly played and then sustained a season-ending Lisfranc injury, making Friday his true debut.
Etienne has been one of the most impressive players on the Jaguars' roster throughout camp, making big plays as a rusher and as a pass-catcher. His explosiveness and game-breaking speed have stood out almost daily, setting the stage for a potentially exciting showing on Friday.
"We’ve seen a lot here in practice, now get under the lights, the roar of the crowd, and that stuff, it’s a different feel. That’s why you do it, right? You practice for all those scenarios, and he’s one of the guys we want to see," Pederson said.
If Etienne receives even a few touches on Friday, it will be the most we have seen from him on an NFL field against an opposing team. To say that isn't worth tuning in for would be a wildly inaccurate statement.
Can the starting secondary create plays?
One of the major talking points surrounding the Jaguars' defense this offseason has been whether they can create more takeaways. The Jaguars finished last in the NFL in turnovers last year and finished as the only defense without double-digits takeaways, leading to the unit taking on a personal mission to change that this season. That will start on Friday as the Jaguars get more of their starting defense onto the field than we saw last week.
But to add to an already noticeable pressure for the defense to begin making game-changing plays is the unit's first real test of 2022. They didn't face Derek Carr last week, but they will play against Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Deshaun Watson this week as the Browns await word on his suspension status. This gives the defense a chance to make plays against an actual opposing starting quarterback, something they haven't been able to do as a new unit.
“It just comes with reps, time on the grass. That’s the only way you can build consistency, then just playing together. That’s why these preseason games are so important, even for a series or two or three in a game just to start that process," Pederson said this week.
"This is the time of camp for us to really find out who our 53 are going to be and start putting those matchups together, start building defensive packages or offensive packages, where we’re going to see guys in different situations. It just comes with time on the grass, and that’s the only way you can do it.”
Who steps up with injuries at receiver
The Jaguars are going to be short a few wide receivers on Friday night. Jamal Agnew and Laviska Shenault are each set to not play, with Agnew still working back to 100% and Shenault nursing a hamstring injury. It can also be safely assumed that Christian Kirk won't play after he rolled his ankle on Monday and sat out of practice on Wednesday.
As a result, a big question is which wide receivers can stand out, especially with Lawrence in the game. Zay Jones and Marvin Jones have been two of his favorite targets in camp, with Zay Jones having a terrific week of practice this week to set the tone for a potential big performance on Friday.
“He’s playing fast. He’s explosive. I think he and Trevor (Lawrence) have built a good rapport, the connection there," Pederson said on Wednesday.
"They’re working through some details of some routes and stuff, getting to know body language from a quarterback to a receiver. Zay’s done a great job in understanding our system. He’s playing fast. Another one, as part of the offensive pieces, that I’m looking forward to Friday night and playing.”
Aside from Jones, there is also the question of who can step up as a back-up to the starters. Jeff Cotton Jr. and Laquon Treadwell have each gotten reps with the starting offense this week and the pair could be in a close competition to make the roster, making games like Friday important for the potential makeup of the roster.
"You kind of want to see as you get to the fourth, fifth, sixth receiver what their versatility could be. You come in, you assume you have this starter, that starter. If somebody goes down, who can fill in? Do you fill in one spot, can you fill in multiple spots, do we have to move three guys to get where you're comfortable?" Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor said this week.
"And at the same time, if all things go well and you have three, four, really established receivers that are playing well, that fifth guy, sometimes his value becomes more special teams. There's not a lot of reps from a receiver standpoint, so who steps up, what is (Special Teams Coordinator) Heath (Farwell) and (Assistant Special Teams Coach) Luke's ability of that guy in special teams and how can he contribute to the team if he is to get that jersey on a Sunday?"