The first game of the NFL season is here with the Hall of Fame Game between the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars set to kick off tonight.
For some, the beginning of the NFL preseason is like a national holiday. It’s the first time we’ll see these players in full pads competing against an opponent, and we can begin to envision the season that will follow. Even if many starters won’t see the field tonight, there will be plenty of young players trying to earn jobs and stake their claim as true NFL players.
Since many of the players on the field may not be recognizable tonight, I’ll walk you through the key storylines and players to watch for in tonight’s game.
How to Watch:
- WHEN: 8 p.m. ET
- CHANNEL: NBC
What to Watch For?
Two New Look Offenses
Both teams hired new coaches in the offseason, which means tonight will be the debut of two new offensive schemes for each team. While the back-ups may be getting most of the snaps, and the players are all likely still learning the systems, tonight will give us our first glimpse of the style of play we should expect from each team.
The Jaguars will be led by Doug Pederson, formerly head coach of the Eagles. Pederson typically likes to use outside runs and screen passes and use athletic linemen to get out and block in space. He and new offensive coordinator Press Taylor (younger brother of Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor) are likely to borrow portions of the playbook from Philadelphia but have publicly stated that they will also build the offense around the style of players like Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and Christian Kirk.
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However, Press Taylor also received criticism in Philadelphia for being too soft on Carson Wentz, which is something to watch in terms of how he helps to develop Trevor Lawrence. Since Lawrence will not play in this game, we’ll need to wait a bit to see if that dynamic has carried over to Jacksonville.
Las Vegas will also be welcoming a new coach in Josh McDaniels. The long-time top assistant in New England, many expect McDaniels to bring over a similar system, particularly in the way he deploys running backs based on skill set and play call rather than just using a workhorse. The Patriots, despite having a reputation as a run-heavy offense, were able to support Randy Moss as an elite wide receiver, so McDaniels is likely able to adapt his scheme to showcase Davante Adams.
New WR1s On Each Sideline
Speaking of Adams, we have no idea how much, if any, time he will see on the field, but he’s certainly the story in Raiders camp. Long thought of as the best receiver in football, Adams will play his first season without Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, so there are a lot of eyes on how he meshes with Carr or if this even seems like an offense where he can flourish.
On the other side, the Jaguars signed Christian Kirk to a big contract to lure him away from Arizona. They’re betting on his raw skills and playmaking ability giving him more upside than the limited role in Arizona showcased, and while Kirk may not play tonight and certainly won’t play with his starting quarterback, his fit in this offensive scheme is something to keep an eye on.
First Overall Pick Takes the Field
When the Jaguars take the field on defense, we will get our first NFL look at the number one overall pick, Travon Walker. The outside linebacker from Georgia has elite speed and athleticism and will operate as a pass-rusher in the Jaguars’ 3-4 defensive front. Given that he will likely be facing a few backup linemen, Jacksonville will be hoping to see their young star flash in his first taste of competitive snaps.
Jaguars Back-up QB Job Up for Grabs
We know that Trevor Lawrence will be the starter in Jacksonville, but he’s not going to play in the Hall of Fame Game tonight, so we will get a look at who could emerge as his top back-up. Jake Luton, who filled in for Lawrence when he was injured last year, figures to get the start. However, Luton will be battling for the job with veteran C.J. Beathard, who also has NFL starting experience, and Kyle Sloter, who has yet to throw an NFL pass.
Raiders WR3 Battle
On the Raiders side, we will see a few players battling to be the third wide receiver, behind Adams and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. With both Zay Jones and Bryan Edwards gone, the end of the Raiders receiving corps will likely look entirely different than it did in 2021.
The most recognizable name is Mack Hollins, who has played for the Eagles and Dolphins, flashing big play upside and athleticism in spurts. He will also compete against former Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole and Tyron Johnson, a former Chargers receiver who has speed to burn and could emerge from the Hall of Fame Game with a leg up as the team’s deep threat.
Jaguars’ Rookie RB Snoop Conner
Both of the Jaguars’ top running backs, Travis Etienne and James Robinson, are recovering from injuries suffered in the 2021 season and will not suit up for the Hall of Fame Game. That gives fifth-round rookie from Ole Miss Snoop Conner the chance to impress, as he has been during practice. Conner is in primary competition with Ryquell Armstead to be the third running back and given the injuries suffered by Etienne and Robinson, winning the job could make Conner a relevant name during the 2022 NFL season.