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Jaguars-Bears preview: Six things to watch

The master plan in Jacksonville hasn't changed -- yet.

The Jaguars remain committed to keeping quarterback Blake Bortles in bubble wrap all season long, but another strong show from the No. 3 overall pick against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night might make that impossible.

Bortles was impressive in last week's debut, puncturing Tampa Bay's defense for 117 yards at 10.6 yards per attempt. The rookie made the most of Jacksonville's limited receiving group, something we didn't see from a milquetoast Chad Henne, who generated a whopping four yards of offense and zero points in four drives against the Bucs.

Bortles, meanwhile, showed rhythm with his wideouts and the courage to climb the pocket -- a rare sight in Jacksonville.

The regular season is far too long to hold off the promise of a young passer with a big arm and first-round pedigree. If Bortles thrives against Chicago, the Jaguars need to rethink everything under center.

Here's what else we're looking for in Thursday night's Jaguars-Bears tilt:

  1. Last year's Bears gave up a league-worst 161.4 yards per game on the ground. This year's Bears hope rookie interior linemen Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton will bolster a run-stuffing unit looking for a solid season from Jeremiah Ratliff. We'll also have our eye on the progress of Shea McClellin's switch from defensive end to strongside linebacker.
  1. The Jaguars hope to counter with workhorse Toby Gerhart. We don't expect to see extensive snaps from the former Vikings running back, but we'll be watching to see how Gerhart fares behind a Jaguars line that saw shaky play last week from center Mike Brewster and guard Jacques McClendon.
  1. Bears rookie safety Brock Vereen played a team-leading 40 snaps on defense against the Eagles, showing well against the run and holding his own in pass coverage. Another strong night would be encouraging after all the problems Chicago had at the position last autumn.
  1. The drama surrounding Martellus Bennett gave young Zach Miller an opportunity to shine against the Eagles. Chicago's intriguing young tight end caught all six passes thrown his way -- two for scores -- and generated three missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus. If he can stay healthy, Miller gives the Bears an intriguing duo at the position.
  1. Jacksonville's defensive front had its way with Tampa's train wreck of an O-line last week. Jay Cutler's protection will give us a better look at where coach Gus Bradley has this exciting young unit. Keep an eye on Sen'Derrick Marks: The Jaguars defensive tackle was a whirlwind against Tampa, perhaps the early signs of a big year to come.

*The latest "Around the League Podcast" broke down the biggest position battles and ranked the best backup QBs in the league. *

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