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Rack Expected to Start Tonight For Jags

(Photo Credit: Bruce Lipsky/The Times-Union)

Tonight on Fox, there's going to be a national preseason NFL broadcast pitting the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.

In most years, you'd think the Nielsen rating in the Lehigh Valley for such a game would be miniscule.

But with OL Will Rackley expected to start for his second preseason game in the young preseason - and a real threat to start for the Jaguars on opening day - you can bet there will be a lot of TV sets in the Lehigh Valley tuned into this game, focusing on the interior of Jacksonville's "O" line. (more)

An amazing set of circumstances has led to the third-round pick from Lehigh to be the frontrunner for the starting position on the Jaguars' "O" line.

It all started when the returning veteran starter, OL Vince Manuwai, showed up to camp overweight and was released. When another veteran guard, OL Tony Smiley was also waived, Rack instantly went from backup to reps with the first team.

As an insurance policy, the Jags signed two veteran guards, OL Tony Moll and OL Jason Spitz, to create a competition for the starting nod.

But all reports coming out of Jacksonville show that Rack is, at a bare minimum, "in the mix" or "the probable starter", depending on who you talk to.

Though he played only two years in high school football, Rackley earned a scholarship to Lehigh, became a four-year starter and was drafted by the Jaguars in the third round.

Now, he has a shot to become the sixth rookie drafted by general manager Gene Smith — and the only one in this year's class — to start his first regular-season game.

They've since signed two guards, but Rackley (6-feet-3, 305 pounds) is in the mix for the job.

What about the review of Rack from his head coach, Jack Del Rio?

"We like to work the guys that get here and give them an opportunity to compete. He's doing that," Del Rio said. "He's shown some promise, but we've got a lot of work to do as a football team and him as a young player as well. But he's doing some good things that put him in contention. We'll see how it plays out."

Del Rio is understandably hesitant to heap praise on his young, rookie lineman two games into the preseason, but that he's talking about a rookie guard at all certainly speaks volumes about the job Rack has already done at camp.

If Del Rio's words were muted, QB David Garrard's words were positively gushing:

"I haven't really noticed too much [rush] from his side, especially when I was watching practice," Garrard said. "He stepped right in, and it has been really seamless, and it seems like he's on top of everything. That's a positive thing to see, somebody that's young like that to be able to step in without a hitch."

Garrard said he won't be worried if the rookie wins the job, noting that tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton started as rookies two years ago.

"If the coaches put them out there, they're ready to go," Garrard said. "I've got every confidence in the world for them to protect me. When they don't and have issues, I've got to be able to confront them the right way."

About the only thing that seems to be potentially slowing Rackley's rise to the top of the depth chart is a dislocated finger injury, which he sustained in Jags practice Sunday evening.

However, the latest report from the Jags website shows that Rack didn't miss a day of practice from the injury, and he seemed to be a "go" for a potential national debut on Friday:

Rookie guard Will Rackley, who sustained a dislocated finger Sunday night, practiced Monday morning, and Del Rio said he believed Rackley would continue working.

“If you’re asking me to guess, I’d assume that an offensive lineman with a sore finger would continue to practice,” Del Rio said.

It's not at all unreasonable to assume that should Rack keep the injury bugs away, and he continues to show the tremendous work ethic he showed at Lehigh, that his national debut tonight will be the first of many for Rack.

And at least one Jags blogger seems to agree:

The Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line is in a weird state right now. Longtime offensive guard Vince Manuwai was released a few weeks ago, but his replacement hasn't been settled yet. Rookie guard Will Rackley seems to be the leader in the clubhouse. Rackley dislocated a finger recently in practice, but as an offensive lineman he should be fine.

The left guard position, as mentioned is a competition between rookie Will Rackley and newly signed veteran Jason Spitz. Rackley is currently the leader at that position and I'd expect him to win the job.

On Fox 29 tonight at 8PM, expect a whole lot of eyes in the Lehigh Valley to be watching intensely on the left side of the Jags' offensive line.


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