NFL Preseason Preview - Jacksonville (2-0) at Baltimore (1-1)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The absence of Maurice Jones-Drew has yet to affect the Jacksonville Jaguars, who'll be shooting for a third straight win of this 2012 preseason when they visit the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
Jones-Drew, the NFL's individual rushing champion last year, remains away from the Jaguars as the All-Pro running back continues to engage in a protracted contract dispute with the organization. Jacksonville has so far gotten along just fine without its star holdout, however, with capable understudy Rashad Jennings having spearheaded a new-look ground attack that's averaged a healthy 163 yards over the team's first two efforts.
Jennings amassed a game-high 62 yards on 11 carries and the Jaguars ran for 170 yards as a group in Friday's 27-24 victory at New Orleans, a game that also marked an impressive pro debut from Jacksonville wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
The fifth overall selection in this past draft, Blackmon missed the early stages of training camp and the Jaguars' preseason-opening win over the New York Giants after signing late, but the talented 22-year-old didn't look too behind in hauling in four Blaine Gabbert passes for 48 yards on the evening. The two first-round picks also connected on a 16-yard score to cap Jacksonville's initial drive.
Gabbert, the Jaguars' top choice in the 2011 draft who endured a trying rookie campaign, threw for another touchdown later on and went a very sharp 13-of-16 for 112 yards before exiting at halftime. The young triggerman has so far completed 69.2 percent (18-of-26) of his attempts for 174 yards and three scores with no interceptions over the preseason's first two weeks.
The 22-year-old's strong numbers on Friday came without the help of Jones-Drew as well as the starting left side of Jacksonville's offensive line, as tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) and guard Will Rackley (ankle) were both declared inactive against the Saints. Neither is expected to suit up for Thursday's contest as well.
Jacksonville's defense will remain without four key contributors in outside linebackers Daryl Smith (groin) and Clint Session (concussion), cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring) and end Austen Lane (foot). However, veteran corner Rashean Mathis, who was held out the first two weeks while recovering from ACL surgery, has been cleared to participate.
Rookie Andre Branch, the Jaguars' second-round pick in April's draft, continues to start in Lane's place and had a half-sack in the New Orleans game.
Baltimore's vaunted defense will be attempting to bounce back from an unusually poor display in front of the home crowd a week ago, when the Ravens were lit up for 507 total yards and 341 through the air in Friday's 27-12 setback to Detroit.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford piled up 184 yards and two touchdowns, including an 18-yard strike to game-changing wideout Calvin Johnson, before exiting midway through the second quarter. Johnson burned the Ravens for 111 yards on five catches in the All-Pro's shortened appearance as well.
Much of Detroit's damage did come after Baltimore pulled its starters shortly after the first quarter, however. The Ravens will be working their regulars for at least the opening half of Thursday's tilt, viewed as the primary "dress-rehearsal" for the regular season.
That list still won't include 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, sidelined until at least November with a torn Achilles tendon, or tight ends Ed Dickson (shoulder) and Dennis Pitta (broken hand). Speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith appears to be on track to play for Baltimore, though, after missing last week's bout with a sprained ankle.
This will be the first-ever preseason meeting between these onetime co- residents of the AFC's Central Division. The Jaguars have won 10 of their 17 lifetime regular-season clashes with Baltimore and dealt the Ravens a 12-7 upset loss in Jacksonville during Week 7 of the 2011 schedule.
08/21 16:58:47 ET