The Jacksonville Jaguars will get their first taste of preseason action when they take the field this Friday night for the first time since they defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the regular season finale at Everbank Field back in January. It will be Tom Coughlin’s first game back in Jacksonville as the head coach of the New York Giants since 2006, when the Jaguars defeated the Giants by a score of 26-13 on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, however, they’ll be missing two key pieces on offense – their first round selection, wide receiver Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State, and the reigning rushing leader of the league, Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
In the absence of Jones-Drew, fourth-year running back Rashad Jennings will have his chance to shine. Jennings spent last season on injured reserve, as in the third game of the 2011 preseason, Jennings injured his knee in a high-scoring game at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Buffalo Bills. For his career, Jennings only has 661 yards with five touchdowns, but a 5.37 per carry average, and has shown flashes in the past, so he’s definitely a player to keep an eye on this Friday night. Also watch for Jalen Parmele out of the backfield, a sixth round selection in 2008 by the Miami Dolphins, who has shined during training camp with the Jaguars.
One key battle to watch will be the Giants wide receivers, specifically Victor Cruz, against Rashean Mathis, the Jaguars veteran cornerback who is coming off a torn ACL, which was suffered last season in Indianapolis. It will be interesting to see how Mathis has come off the injury in game time action. It will also be our first look at the team’s rookies, including defensive end Andre Branch from Clemson, as well as Bryan Anger, appropriately nicknamed “Legatron,” the punter from California who was selected in the third round. Aaron Ross, who won two Super Bowl championships as a part of the Giants, will also face his old team as he now joins the defensive backfield for Jacksonville.
The fifth overall selection by the Jaguars in this past April’s draft, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon remains the only draft pick in the league still unsigned. Aside from that, the league’s leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew, isn’t happy with his contract, and has yet to report any team-related activities. While the Jaguars offense has shown during training camp that it’s seemingly improved, the full product won’t be on the field for the first preseason game of 2012. Despite the fact that they won’t be on the field, it will still be interesting to see the on-field connection between second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert and free agent acquisition Laurent Robinson, the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver.
For the Jaguars, missing on the defensive side of the ball for this game will be third-year defensive end Austen Lane, who is out with a foot injury, and is expected to miss a few weeks. The Jaguars will also be missing second-year offensive guard Will Rackley along the offensive line, who is out with a high ankle sprain. For the Giants, they’ll be without cornerback Terrell Thomas, who recently suffered an ACL injury, and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who broke his right foot during OTA’s back in May.
There’s no better opponent for new head coach Mike Mularkey and the new-look Jaguars to face in the preseason than the reigning Super Bowl Champions. For an offense that was arguably the worst in the league last season, and a defense that remains one of the top units in the league, it will be interesting to see how this new and improved team from Jacksonville measures up against the New York Giants. Sure, it’s the preseason, but there’s no better opponent to have in this type of situation than the team that is currently atop the mountain.