It’s fun to talk about Gardner Minshew’s mustache, “Minshew Magic,” his clothes and his resemblance to Uncle Rico from ‘Napoleon Dynamite.” But somewhere in all of that hype, the kind of quarterback he actually is can get lost. He’s twice been named the Offensive Rookie of the Week Twice and this week was named NFL Rookie of the Month for September.
When Florida was in it’s heyday in the ‘90’s, Steve Spurrier developed one quarterback after another. They all did the drills, the Head Ball Coach would put his visor in the back corner of the end zone and they’d drill dropping the ball back there with a high, arching throw from inside the 20-yard line. It’s a “feel” throw more than anything else. Danny Wuerffel had that feel. Jesse Palmer, perhaps more physically talented than Wuerffel, did not.
It starts with a feel for the game, and Minshew has it.
It comes from practice, but it also comes from playing in your backyard as a kid. Minshew has that innate “feel” for the game only developed when nobody’s watching.
On the touchdown pass to Rock Armstead, he escaped three different guys, just like you would in the backyard. But unnoticed is how he made the throw.
The next time you see the highlight, notice that the ball never got past his ear when he took it back. That’s not anything you can teach. He knew there wasn’t much space left in there and no doubt somebody was coming from behind. So a “flick” into the end zone was the way to make play, and he made it.
“Try to protect the ball first and make a play,” is how Minshew described the play. “He (Armstead) did an awesome job. He ran a flat, came back around, and back out. It was awesome on him.”
Standing in the pocket, Gardner has that internal clock that tells him somewhere around three seconds after the snap he needs to get rid of it or get out of there. Somebody’s coming no matter how good the offensive line is blocking. He can feel the pressure immediately when taking the ball in the shotgun without looking at the blocking scheme like some quarterbacks do, especially later in their careers. He’ll make a slight move to the right or left or take a step up; all of those things keep the play alive and allow him to make a throw.
And that’s perhaps the most surprising part of Minshew’s game.
He’s throwing passes for the Jaguars that scouts didn’t think he could make coming out of Washington State. That’s why he lasted until the sixth round. His football IQ is plenty high and everybody knew that. He’s the same height as Drew Brees. He’s not fast, and he admits it. But nobody thought he could take that ball from the far hash and throw the deep crossing out pattern on the other side of the field.
Except in games he can.
Minshew is a “gamer” for sure, finding that little extra mustard or the right touch on the throw when he has to have it.
“I really don’t think they’re 50-50 balls,” he said of his willingness to put the ball up against one-on-one coverage. “Our guys can go up and get those.”
Minshew is developing that knowledge in practice with the receivers, knowing what they’re good at. For D.J. Chark, it’s back shoulder. For Dede Westbrook, it’s an outstretched arms catch. Chris Conley can “high-point” the ball and Gardner is able to throw that ball in the game for what’s best for his receivers.
Two throws stood out for Minshew on the Jaguars last two scoring drives. On third and 4 from their own 41 and 7:04 to play, the Jaguars called a crossing pattern to Marqis Lee. It looks like an easy throw, just five yards down the field. But Lee is streaking across the formation and the ball has to be delivered in perfectly for the play to work.. You get the timing for this play in practice. But in the game, with the pocket collapsing, Minshew delivers the ball in the ideal spot for a first down to keep the drive alive. It resuled in a Josh Lambo field goal.
On the final drive, starting at their own 25, Minshew threw incomplete on first down and fumbled the ball on second down, only to pick it up and throw it to D.J.Chark for 1-yard. On that play, Bradley Chubb was called for roughing the passer giving the Jaguars a new set of downs but leaving Gardner limping after the hit. (“Just football stuff,” he said afterwards. He’s expected to wear a knee brace against Carolina.)
On the very next play, Minshew had a couple of options where to throw it but picked the longest and most difficult choice, hitting Dede Westbrook, deep and across the field going away from him. One of the hardest throws for a quarterback to make but it was delivered perfectly. Westbrook tacked on some yards after the catch for a 32-yard gain to the Denver 27 and the Jaguars were already in field goal range.
“It was crazy. We knew we had to make some plays right there,” Minshew said after the game. “We had the ball, it got tipped up, I got hit, it was crazy. Then we get the penalty, Dede runs an awesome route. That was awesome.”
He’s the anti-Gabbert. Watching Blaine Gabbert in practice you wondered, “How do we ever lose?” The ball came out of his hand singing. He had command of the offense and nearly never missed a receiver. But that performance didn’t translate into games.
Minshew is the opposite.
In practice he looks fine, runs the offense and gets the ball there. But in games he steps up to another level. During the preseason Marrone was fine with Gardner’s performance but admitted he wanted to see more production.
“I don’t know if anxiety is the right word for me, but it’s more of I didn’t know. I really didn’t know,” the Jaguars head coach said of what he thought of Minshew coming out of the preseason. “I wasn’t sure, I just would have liked to see more production. Sometimes it’s about who’s around him at that position, trying to get a good beat on what that player is going to be able to do.”
When he was thrust into the game against Kansas City, he was handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette. Westbrook, Chark, Chris Conley and Geoff Swaim were running routes. That’s a big difference from standing in the huddle with guys just trying to make the team.
Starting this week there’s a big enough body of work for Minshew in the NFL for defensive coordinators to concentrate on taking the things away from him they perceive he’s good at: Crossing routes, quick outs, whatever. The good and great quarterbacks face that early in their careers and adjust. They make the defensive coordinators pick their poison. You can’t take it all away, they have a full arsenal of things they can do.
It’s why Marrone said this week, “I think it’s still early and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll take it week-by-week.” He knows what coaches are plotting to stop the Jaguars offense and their rookie quarterback.
The next couple of weeks will tell: Is it “magic” or just smoke and mirrors?