NFL Preseason Preview - Tampa Bay (0-0) at Jacksonville (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars will open the 2014 preseason on Friday by hosting fellow Sunshine State resident Tampa Bay and its new coach, Lovie Smith.
Led by second-year general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley, the Jags are coming off a 4-12 season in 2013, including four wins in a five game stretch during the second half of the season.
The foundation of Jacksonville's rebuilding process has begun to take shape with the headliner being rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who was taken with the third overall pick in May's draft.
Caldwell also hit free agency hard, bringing in significant contributors at running back (Toby Gerhart), left guard (Zane Beadles) and on the defensive line (Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood).
Next up is figuring out whether veteran Chad Henne will serve as the bridge at the QB position or if Bortles can hit the ground running, and if rookie receivers Marqise Lee or Allen Robinson can at least help alleviate the loss of the very talented Justin Blackmon, who is suspended indefinitely for repeated violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.
"We still have a lot of work to do so you won't see us game prep much for Tampa Bay," Bradley said. "You'll see us go out and get some of these situations done. Try to elevate the level of play through a little bit more reps for the ones, get them acclimated to it. And then be precise on our responsibilities."
The Bucs, meanwhile, are a sexy pick by many to be a playoff contender in 2014, especially if veteran free agent quarterback Josh McCown can take advantage of a similar set-up to what he had in Chicago with two very tall receivers (Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans).
The 35-year-old McCown is no long-term fix for Tampa, which finished a disappointing 4-12 a year ago, but he proved that he could perform with solid skill-position talent around him with the Bears last year.
The Sam Houston State product really excelled when throwing the jump ball to lengthy receivers like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett in Chicago and will have a similar setup in Tampa now that the 6-foot-5 Evans and 6-5 rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be joining similar-sized veteran Jackson.
"He reminds me of Drew (Brees)," Bucs linebacker Jonathan Casillas told WEPN radio in New York when discussing McCown. "Not just the way he throws the ball, but his approach to the game. The first one in, last one out. You know, he's always around. He's very (communicative), very personable. And you can tell he's a born leader."
Defensively Smith came in and quickly asserted that the Bucs' pass rush simply wasn't good enough so the team spent heavily on former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, signing the lengthy player to a five-year deal worth $43 million, including $24 million in guaranteed money.
The 27-year-old former third-round pick out of Georgia Tech is one of the better two-way ends in football, stellar against the run and solid when chasing the passer. Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks in 2012 before dropping back to just 3 1/2 last year in Mike Zimmer's rotational system. More reps in Smith's scheme should mean bigger numbers for the high-priced Johnson.
"Coach Smith and (defensive coordinator Leslie) Frazier, they're putting together a great defense," Johnson said. "I'm just thankful to be a part of it, and looking forward to all the stuff I can do."
08/06 12:15:03 ET