Coughlin returns, Shurmur debuts in Jaguars-Giants opener
The game will be the first for Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin against the Giants, the team he led to two Super Bowl titles before resigning in January 2016 after a dozen seasons as coach.
It also will be Pat Shurmur’s first regular-season NFL game as coach of the Giants, a team that has made the playoffs once (2016) since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.
“Those who are around know the history,” said Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, who was a member of both Super Bowl teams. “We know Coughlin will have them fired up. It is the first game and everyone wants to get off on the right foot. I can’t say it will be an extra motivator, but it’s something we are aware of, and it doesn’t chance our approach.”
The Giants are just looking to play a lot better than last season. They went 3-13 and saw coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese get fired in early December.
Shurmur and new general manager Dave Gettleman have turned around much of the roster and they will get their first true peek at the new product this weekend in a very tough matchup.
The Jaguars (12-7) blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the New England Patriots in the AFC title game in January. A trip to the Super Bowl was within their grasp.
“I think we’ve taking a good approach as a team, and as a group in the locker room of everybody that was a part of what happened last year so badly wants to get back to that AFC championship game and change that outcome,” quarterback Blake Bortles said.
Bortles said the Jaguars aren’t taking anything for granted.
“We’ve got to take every day, every week, every meeting of preparation as seriously as possible, and the rest will take care of itself and we’ll end up back there again,” he said.
Coughlin did not talk to the media in Jacksonville this week, but coach Doug Marrone said Coughlin has not changed his approach with the return to New York.
“We know we’ve got a tough road ahead of us and we know we’ve got a tough game on the road opening day up in New York,” Marrone said. “They’ll be fired up and ready to go.”
Here are some other things to watch:
BARKLEY-BECKHAM: There are no two players the Giants’ faithful wants to see more than running back Saquon Barkley and three-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Barkley was the second overall pick in the draft and has the talent and explosiveness to give the Giants a strong running game for the first time since 2011. Beckham missed most of last season after breaking his left ankle in early October. He did not play in the preseason, but has looked good with Eli Manning in practice and owns the richest contract for a wide receiver in NFL history.
JAGS DEFENSE: Jacksonville is loaded on defense with six returning Pro Bowlers: cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, linemen Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue, and linebacker Telvin Smith Sr. The Jaguars were ranked No. 2 in the league last season, with Ramsey and Campbell making the All-Pro Team.
“When you have the kind of confidence we have, when you believe that we can be as good as we can, you can’t wait to get there and just try to show it play after play,” Campbell said.
SECONDARY WOES: New York has three veteran starters in the secondary, cornerbacks Eli Apple and newcomer Janoris Jenkins, and star safety Landon Collins. Untested Curtis Riley is the free safety. There is uncertainty about the nickel and dime backs with Donte Deayon, B.W. Webb and Michael Thomas in the mix. Depth is an issue. The team signed Antonio Hamilton, Mike Jordan and Kamrin Moore this week.
ON THE WIDE SIDE: Bortles has to find a new go-to receiver with Marqise Lee out for the year with a knee injury. Keelan Cole, second on the team last season with 42 catches for 748 yards and three touchdowns, is starting along with veteran Donte Moncrief, who was signed as a free agent. Dede Westbrook is the third receiver for a team ranked No. 1 in rushing. The problem is the Giants are good against the run and that puts pressure on the wide receivers to step up.
O-LINE: The Giants spent almost $80 million to rebuild their line. Left tackle Nate Solder and right guard Patrick Omameh signed as free agents. Left guard Will Hernandez was drafted. Ereck Flowers was moved to right tackle from the left side, and Jon Halapio took over at center. The line protected well in the preseason. There were not a lot of holes for the running backs.
ELI-RAMSEY: Watch to see if Manning throws at Ramsey. The Jags cornerback slighted the two-time Super Bowl MVP in the offseason, refusing to say Manning is good while adding Beckham is the one who really makes the Giants go.