No matter where you look, if they’re talking about the NFL, they’re talking about the Jaguars. In year two of Doug Pederson’s tenure as the Jaguars Head Coach, he’s taken a franchise lost in every way possible and turned the team into a contender. His steady hand, as well as some solid acquisitions through free agency and the draft, and the development of Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, both on and off the field, have the Jaguars as a favorite to win the AFC South and possibly contend deep into the playoffs.
Bookmakers have the over/under on Jaguars wins at 9 and a half. So expectations are high both locally and everywhere else.
How do you deal with that when it came so quickly?
“We stay focused on the moment, we stay focused on ourselves, we prepare like we do every single week and every single day,” Pederson said. “That’s what we have to do, we can’t worry about what’s going on outside of the building and let the fans and media talk about that.”
Jaguars Quarterback Trevor Lawrence agreed. Expectations aren’t important.
“I don’t really care to be honest,” Lawrence said unapologetically. “I think it’s more dangerous to have people praising you than to not have any expectations. With the group we have, it doesn’t worry me at all.”
“You don’t really deal with them,” he added about expectations the Jaguars could content this year. “What does it matter what this guy said of here? He’s not in our locker room, he’s not a part of our team.”
Lawrence credits Pederson with creating that mindset within the team.
“I think that’s the biggest thing that Coach has done a good job of, is making sure of that, and managing all of those expectations. They’re not real, we have to go out there and play every Sunday.”
But from the spot where the Jaguars were two years ago to this year is a giant leap forward. They were a moribund franchise without a history of winning or an identity they could lean on. Pederson has changed that, and Lawrence is a big part of that. And not just with his play. It’s no surprise that he’s the leading vote getter when his fellow players are electing a captain.
Coming off their late season success in 2022, the team seems hungry to continue that run. It’s something that can carry over or disappear depending on the culture of the team.
Lawrence seems to be the glue that has bound the Jaguars together.
“I don’t think they exceeded them, but they met them,” Pederson said of how the team came back to work after last year’s success, and his expectations of what to expect from still a young team in 2023. “There’s so much confidence right now in that locker room and that’s the good thing. That part is really good, the team is in a good place.”
“I think it’s a lot of things,” Lawrence added when asked about carrying over last year’s success. He credits the continuity.
“I think it’s having confidence a little bit from past success, but also preparation and knowing our system and feeling more comfortable in what we’re doing.”
And both said they like how the team reacts to the ups and downs of preseason, training camp, cuts, and the onslaught of publicity as one of the favorites in the AFC. (Read that last sentence again!)
“There’s a lot of maturity on this team,” Pederson explained even though the Jaguars remain one of the youngest teams in the league. “So many young players have played a lot of football, it’s interesting. There’s not a lot that really phases this group. Adversity we know is going to strike at some point, this team doesn’t seem to waiver much at all with that.”
Lawrence echoed Pederson’s confidence in the maturity of a young team.
“It’s a lot different, the confidence piece,” he explained. “We know everything is not going to go perfect this year, it’s never going to no matter how good your team is. Understanding that and also realizing we’ve been through some of that adversity before and we know how to handle it.”
Opening on the road at Indianapolis could give the Jaguars an indication of just how good and how mature they are. They didn’t play well on the road last year and lost to the Colts for the ninth time in the last ten games at Indy.
That’s not lost on the Jaguars Head Coach.
“The unknown is just, ‘Hey, how are we going to respond to that?’” he said with a sigh.
And even only in his third year, Lawrence has figured out beating division opponents is important for the present and the future. Division opponents become natural rivals.
“Honestly every division game feels that way,” he said when asked about rivalries in the NFL. “It’s almost like the division games are worth double. It’s a big opportunity to either get ahead of fall behind. It’s my third year in the league and I’m playing them for the fifth time.”
And that familiarity stays in the back of his mind.
“You see them, you talk to them, you seem them after games, all that stuff,” he said with a smile. “You get to know how they play and the things they like to do. You remember players and you keep things saved, you go back on notes and all that stuff, so you remember all of that.”