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Key matchups, storylines, and predictions for Week 1

Key matchups, storylines, and predictions for Week 1

The Jacksonville Jaguars kick off their 2018 campaign tonight at 7pm EST against the New Orleans Saints (see Ryan O’Bleness’ crossover piece with Canal Street Chronicles).

Although the starters may not see more than a series in all likelihood, that shouldn’t mitigate the enthusiasm of seeing the Jaguars suit up in an organized competition for the first time since January. Toss in the debut of our new threads — teal tops and white pants, by the way — and tonight’s affair becomes must-see-TV.

Opponent

One of the strongest rosters in the NFL, the Saints will likely sideline their marquee veterans, including Drew Brees. This means a heavy dose of Tom Savage, who is still probably experiencing PTSD from the Jaguars ten sack thrashing against the Texans in week one of last season. Undrafted rookie quarterback JT Barrett of Ohio State should see the majority of snaps in the second half.

Similar to the Jaguars, the Saints are pretty set across the board with their starters and there won’t be many position battles to key in on. One player I look forward to watching is rookie running back Boston Scott of Louisiana Tech. Scott was a prospect I was very high on as a potential draft gem and Corey Grant replacement, and he should get plenty of play as the Saints seek clarity at the bottom of their running back depth chart with Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games of 2018.

Storylines

The Jaguars’ offseason has been relatively uneventful to this point owing to the dearth of position battles on this roster, but this is what I like to refer to as “champagne problems.�

While I do expect the offensive and defensive starting units to begin the game and sweat a little bit, I don’t expect them to stay in very long. This means a heavy dose of Cody Kessler and rookie Tanner Lee, who is vying to earn a spot on the practice squad. Kessler will need to show fluency in the offense in a live situation and demonstrate that he can limit turnovers in the event he ever has to play this season.

The battle for the final wide receiver spot should also start to come into focus. My understanding is that Shane Wynn and Jaydon Mickens (with an exception) are eligible for the practice squad this season, and rookie free agent Allen Lazard has come on strong lately. When I interviewed Lazard at the Senior Bowl, he shared that the Saints were his favorite team growing up and that they “grilled him� on the whiteboard in his first meeting in Mobile.

With such promise at the position and early nicks to Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief in camp, it wouldn’t be the most outrageous thing if the Jaguars end up keeping just three running backs and seven wide receivers on the final 53 man roster.

On the defense, the amount of reps that rookie strong side linebacker Leon Jacobs sees in his debut will be something worth noting. Jacobs has impressed his coaches and teammates in camp, and Thursday’s exhibition will be a huge test for how well he can actually apply the information in game speed. Expect Jacobs to see a lot of snaps, especially with backup Brooks Ellis sidelined for most of the past week.

Key matchups

Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson vs. Will Richardson

2018 Saints first round pick Marcus Davenport is the guy I would love to see test rookie right tackle Will Richardson, but Davenport has spent more time working with trainers thus far than he has on the field and likely will be shelved for the game. This sets up a big opportunity for Florida Atlantic product Trey Hendrickson to square off against Richardson, and we will have a better idea by the end of the match up if Richardson is cut from NFL cloth.

Tre’Quan Smith vs. Tre Herndon

A familiar name for most Jaguars fans, UCF rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith has lit up camp for the Saints. Smith will likely see snaps on both the outside and in the slot, where he will be competing with Ted Ginn Jr. and Tommylee Lewis for regular season snaps. If rookie free agent cornerback Tre Herndon can continue the positive momentum he’s generated so far, he can continue to build his case for making the team.

Deon Yelder vs. Leon Jacobs

If Jacobs sees snaps into the second half, he will have his hands full against rookie free agent tight end Deon Yelder. Jacobs has flashed his coverage skills and Yelder will be a nice challenge to see if Jacobs can play backwards from the line.

Natrell Jamerson vs. Tanner Lee

Tanner Lee was a turnover machine at Nebraska, and his performance so far in camp suggests this may be a theme that carries over into his pro career. Similar to Kessler, Nathaniel Hackett and Scott Milanovich will be evaluating Lee on his ability to take care of the football, which is priority number one for this offense.

Final prediction

I think the Jaguars take a lead into halftime, but a couple Tanner Lee picks allow the Saints to take home the win in the fourth quarter. That’s fine. Whether or not the Jaguars win on the scoreboard, they will be real winners if they can enter next week with an empty injury report.

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Source:: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS