Falcons vs. Jaguars
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
On TV: CW69
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars had few, if any, concerns at center for a dozen years.
Brad Meester was Jacksonville’s man in the middle every season since 2002, and he was arguably the most consistent and dependable player in franchise history. He set a team record for games played (208) and notched the two longest streaks of consecutive starts (92 and 89).
So it should be no surprise that the Jaguars have had a tough time replacing him.
The Jaguars essentially benched center Mike Brewster after two preseason games, opening up the job to journeyman Jacques McClendon and rookie Luke Bowanko.
Jacksonville hopes to settle the position in Thursday’s preseason finale against Atlanta, which also is looking to finalize its offensive line.
“We just want to challenge them one more time to see who shows up and what we’re looking for,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.
Brewster was supposed to slide right into the starting job. The former Ohio State standout spent two years waiting for Meester to retire, but he sailed two shotgun snaps over Chad Henne’s head in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and then got handled inside the following week at Chicago.
“I try to stay positive,” Brewster said. “I don’t see the point in ever worrying about certain things you don’t control. You’ve just got to prepare yourself for anything and that’s how I’ve always been. It’s how I was raised and it’s how I’m always going to be. Just don’t let anything like that throw you off.”
All indications are Bowanko will get the nod over McClendon, who is expected to start at left guard against the Falcons in place of Zane Beadles (calf).
Jacksonville selected Bowanko in the sixth round of the NFL draft in May. The Virginia graduate wasn’t expected to start right away, especially since the Jaguars already have third-round pick Brandon Linder penciled in at right guard and second-year pro Luke Joeckel starting at left tackle.
But with Brewster’s struggles, the Jaguars believe they will be better off in the long run if they get the rookies on the field — even if it means taking some lumps early.
“It’s like coming in your first day of college,” Bowanko said. “You know others here have been doing this for a while, but it’s not really about them. It’s about what you can do and what abilities you bring to the table and justifying people’s faith that they had in you to draft you.
“I just came in, and if I was good enough to do that, it would kind of take care of itself. Nothing is etched in stone, anything even to this day. So I’m just working to get better and put my best stuff out there.”
Bowanko might be further along had it not been for a foot injury that kept him out parts of training camp.
“He’s got a lot of upside,” Bradley said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s nicked up a little bit. We’re intrigued by him. He just needs to get reps. He needs to get bounced around a little bit, get a feel for that.
“He’s healthy enough to play, but I think in his mind, he’s not quite 100 percent. So what a good feel for him to learn that he’s got to play at a high level because you’re going to get banged up.”
The Falcons know all about that, especially along the offensive line.
Atlanta’s patchwork line was a huge problem in 2013. The Falcons responded by drafting Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick. They planned to play Matthews at right tackle, but had to move him to the left side when Sam Baker went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
Lamar Holmes has been the starting right tackle since, but Gabe Carimi also has a chance to earn the starting spot Thursday night. Carimi missed the first three preseason games with an ankle injury.
“It’s going to be an important night for a lot of players,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “It’s going to be an important night for our organization. We’ve got some tough decisions to make.”