When the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense takes the field Sunday, it will be the first time it has opened up the playbook in a game under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
Film of the Jaguars from last season can only offer so much insight, as can film of previous offenses under Olson. What will Jacksonville’s offense do to start the game?
“Yeah, I think we might come out and throw three flea flickers to open the game, you know, and try to give them a surprise,” Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles joked this week.
While the Jaguars likely won’t open with three trick plays, there’s still an element of the unknown.
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Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said this week that it seems like Carolina always faces a team with a new offensive coordinator the first week of the season, and that wasn’t inaccurate.
In the five season openers under Ron Rivera, who became Carolina’s coach in 2011, this will be the fourth time the Panthers have faced a team with a new offensive coordinator in Week 1. It happened in 2011 with Arizona, in 2012 with Tampa Bay, then again with the Buccaneers in 2014.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Olson and what he does on the offensive side of Jacksonville and the way he’s been able to turn around that offense,” Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “The offense probably has the edge when you go into the first week of the season, because you’re not sure what they’re working with and what we’re not seeing. Give them the advantage at that point, I guess.”
The Jaguars’ offense was one of the NFL’s worst last season. Jacksonville was one of three teams that averaged less than 300 yards of total offense per game.
But that was with a rookie quarterback. Now in his second year, Bortles, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, was a 65 percent passer with 461 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the preseason.
That’s better than his 59 percent clip last year, when he threw 17 interceptions, third-most in the NFL.
“Just like any rookie quarterback, you see some really good games, and then you see some tough times. I think through the whole thing, Blake really learned from the experience,” Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said. “I think now his mindset has changed during the offseason, coming up with a routine and how he wants to go about it.
“I think with our change in coordinators, it has become more of a focus that they have put on Blake now knowing that he has had some experiences and some games.”
Perhaps the Jaguars have some promise in Bortles’ second year. Jacksonville hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, and the Jaguars have just nine wins in the past three seasons.
But Davis has seen a difference in the preseason in Bortles.
“You look at these guys on film, and they are flat out playing better football than they have,” Davis said. “The quarterback is making really good decisions. He didn’t have a turnover in the preseason. We know we have to do a great job of getting him off his spot and making sure we get after him. That’s going to be key for us.”
This week, the Panthers have studied player tendencies and what Olson has done in the past with his offenses.
Ultimately, though, Carolina defenders have to rely on their fundamentals and instincts early on as the Panthers, yet again, face a team with many unknowns.
“I’ve been in this game before where you’ve got a new coach and new coordinator and you come out and it’s a whole bunch of stuff you’ve never seen,” safety Roman Harper said. “You’ve got to understand that and live and die on your technique, the little things we’ve been taught and the fundamentals.
“They might have some early success, and we understand that. We’ve got to play right through. If we do that, then we’ll be fine. It’s all about starting fast, getting some momentum going, and anything they throw at us, we’ve got to be able to bounce back, hit the reset button and keep going.”