1. Blake Bortles’ first-team debut: After tearing it up in the preseason with the second-team offense against second-team defenses (18-for-28, 277 yards) the Jaguars are finally giving the rookie quarterback a chance to play with the first team against a first-team defense. He’ll play about a quarter, and coach Gus Bradley said he’ll likely enter the game sometime in the second quarter. There is a difference between playing against a first-team defense: The players are (obviously) better, the coverages are disguised, there are more pressures, and everything happens just a bit faster. That means Bortles has to make quicker decisions. So far during the preseason, he has been poised and confident in the pocket and has smartly audibled the Jaguars out of bad plays. He also hasn’t locked in on his first option on pass plays, either. Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch want to see if he can do those things against the Lions’ first-team defense.
2. Make or break: It’s possible that Mike Brewster could go from being the Jaguars’ starting center at the start of training camp to not even making the team. He hasn’t been impressive, and the Jaguars are working three other players at the spot in third-year veteran Jacques McClendon and rookies Brandon Linder and Luke Bowanko. McClendon is going to start against the Lions, and Bradley said he’s not sure of the rotation after that. Brewster’s issue is that he’s not a powerful player at the point of attack, and that’s hurting the Jaguars in the power-run game. This is a critical game for his future with the franchise, and it comes against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. If he doesn’t play well, then he will have a tough time making the final roster. The lineup to look for will be when Bowanko is at center and Linder is at right guard. Linder was drafted to be the right guard, and the staff has liked what they’ve seen from Bowanko at center.
3. Pressure: The Jaguars’ upgraded defensive line has played well against the run in camp and in the team’s first two preseason games, but the unit did not get much pressure on Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler last week. This week’s test is Matthew Stafford, who is getting Calvin Johnson back for the first time this preseason. The Jaguars have just 51 sacks over the past two seasons (31 in 2013) and this is the kind of game in which the pass rush needs to shine: a high-powered pass attack led by an elite quarterback and receiver. The Jaguars signed Chris Clemons to be disruptive off the edge, and he has been impressive in camp and has one of the team’s four sacks. He looks like the player that had at least 11 sacks in three consecutive seasons (2009-12) before suffering a torn ACL in the 2012 postseason. His production dipped to 4.5 sacks last season, but he said he didn’t feel completely healthy until Seattle’s playoff run.