First Impressions – Jaguars @ Bills

| August 28, 2011

In the final week of meaningful preseason action the Bills and Jaguars met up in a battle of two teams looking for improvements on disappointing 2010 campaigns.
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There has been some movement of players between the two teams but both have made statements of intent to upgrade areas that were lacking last season. How those upgrades perform will dictate whether these two franchises can return to the playoffs for the first time in three and 11 seasons respectively.
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Here are some points that stood out in this contest:
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Buffalo – Three Things of Note
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● As he was last week against the Broncos, CJ Spiller was thrown out in multiple positions as the Bills look to make the most of his wide range of talents. Spiller was drafted in the Top 10 but failed to really make the impression Bills fans might have hoped for from such a high pick. The conundrum with Spiller comes with the man he shares the backfield with, Fred Jackson, a very similar running back in terms of his varied skill set. Jackson both places pressure firmly on Spiller and eases pressure on him at the same time. Jackson’s ability as a running back means the Bills don’t have to keep Spiller solely in the backfield. Gailey can split him to the slot or out wide, a role Spiller was also used in at Clemson. However, just in the same way as Jackson places pressure on Spiller in the backfield, he also does so in the multiple-duty role in the offense. Jackson’s 30 yard gain on a corner route from the slot of a five-wide set showed that he too can make plays from spots other than halfback. Spiller’s talent is unquestioned and the investment the Bills have in him dictates a certain number of snaps, but the question for Buffalo is if Jackson continues to out-perform Spiller in the regular season, as he did last year, where does Spiller get his playing time?
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● Eric Wood now returns to his college position at center and has looked quite comfortable there in the last two weeks of preseason. The question mark for Wood, however, comes with how he copes with the bigger bodies. At times in this game Terrance Knighton gave Wood some real problems and the Bills will hope that doesn’t become a recurring issue. No one seems to quite know yet what the Patriots are going to do on defense but if Wood does struggle with the big bodies you can all but guarantee that Vince Wilfork will be lined up on him a lot in both encounters they’ll have.
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● Marcel Dareus continued to bounce between DLT and DLE for the Bills and rather frustratingly was something of a non-factor, possibly due to an injury picked up in practice. Dareus wasn’t featured in the Bills’ sub packages but it was concerning that he was simply unable to make an impact in the base defense. He was handled fairly comfortably by the likes of Uche Nwaneri early on. Nwaneri is a solid player but if the Bills were hoping for Dareus to make an immediate splash, then this is the sort of matchup they would be looking towards for him to start making a name for himself. Buffalo may have to preach patience before they see returns from the Alabama graduate.
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Jacksonville – Three Things of Note
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● Paul Posluszny is the centerpiece of the Jaguars’ overhaul to their linebacking group and his performance wasn’t quite up to what the Jaguars are expecting to get from him … but he is starting to show signs. Jacksonville got a solid linebacker last season in the shape of Kirk Morrison but in combination with the likes of Justin Durant showed a vulnerability to the play action pass and the all around play wasn’t there. Posluszny may not be the downhill force of the likes of Morrison and Bart Scott against the run but he showed in his time in Buffalo to be one of the better and well-rounded middle linebackers in the league. At moments in this game, he showed signs of struggling to settle into a new defense with new schemes and new responsibilities, fighting at times to find the football but there were still flashes of the player the Jaguars want. He did display his nose for the ball with a crucial stop on Fred Jackson on 3rd-and-goal early in the game and even with a dubious early penalty for illegal contact, showed the improvement in coverage that Jacksonville fans should see from their linebacking corps this season. It may take a game or two to fully acclimate, but the improvements should be there.
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● Blaine Gabbert had to wait his turn in this 3rd preseason game but showed some promise when he finally got his chance. The rookie capped his display with a short pass to DuJuan Harris for a touchdown that beat the coverage of Brandon Hicks. He did let the inexperience and exuberance of youth show through a bit with a poor interception later on in the 4th quarter. Flushed from the pocket, a bad decision led to him forcing a pass down the left sideline for a soft pick. Gabbert’s blushes were spared by an interception from Jalil Johnson but it is that sort of error that may see Jacksonville exercise a slow clock with Gabbert and go with the solid, if unpopular, David Garrard to get the season going.
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● What’s the best way to take a big run stuffer like Terrance Knighton out of the game? Put the ball in the air. The Bills did just that early in the second quarter and while Knighton was kept on the field, he had absolutely no impact. Clearly you don’t expect much from “Pot Roast” in those situations but his ability to hold the point of the attack was as good as ever in this game and his performance will be key to Posluszny and the Jaguars’ new LB corps getting set in. That the Jaguars were willing to split their defensive tackles as wide as putting them both on outside shades of the Bills’ guards shows their confidence in the ability of Knighton to not only fight, but dominate blockers, with Tyson Alualu still missing, the pressure is on Knighton to be the dominant force at the heart of the Bills’ defense.
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Overtime in preseason, not always welcome as after the first string is off many fans will head for the exit, but it demonstrates a hunger that these two teams have to improve on last season. Backups desperate to win starting jobs, desperate to make a difference and propel these two teams forward towards much needed playoff berths. Week 4 of preseason is often viewed as an irrelevance, something to nurse your 53-man roster through so the final big audition is over and now these two teams have two weeks to get ready for the opening salvos of the 2011 season. After that long offseason that we’d all sooner forget, is anyone else getting just a little impatient for the real action to start?
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  • Rick Drummond

    Thanks for the notes, Bills fans – tar and feathers on order for Ben’s misstatement re: Dareus.