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Trevor Lawrence Jaguars

Jaguars Draft Questions

There was that moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “With the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson,” when it felt surreal.

Like, “Wait, the Jaguars are relevant again.”

After the disappointment and drudgery of last year, and for most of the last decade, the whole mood swung 180 degrees in the other direction. The worst record in the league gave the Jaguars the biggest reward: the first pick in the draft. And not just any first pick. A generational player of whom Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke says, “There are no negatives.”

Lawrence, in every instance in front of the media since becoming the number one pick, has said things and done things that make you believe he is the kind of player, and person who can reshape a franchise.

“I think it’s just important to be normal,” he said when asked about becoming part of the community. “One way to do that is plugging into the community, investing in the community and caring about the people around you,”

That’s not the typical answer from as twenty-one-year-old, no matter how much coaching and experience he’s had in the limelight.

And on his football expectations? Can he quickly adapt the NFL and be a starter week one?

“I expect to perform well and to adjust quickly and be ready to go, and that’s something I expect a lot out of myself. it’s just about earning – I think the biggest thing is – the respect and trust of your teammates,” Lawrence said without hesitation.

“Without that it doesn’t really matter what you expect going in, you’ve got to earn that first. I’m just going to take it step by step, but like I said I’m going to do everything in my power to prepare, to be the best I can be and put us in the best chance to win.”

From there, the Jaguas settled into reshaping their team. Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer said, “We have to get this right,” and agreed that at a minimum, their top four picks have to be impact players right away. Starters who make a difference.

Making Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s teammate at Clemson their second pick of the first round gives the Jaguars a look in the backfield they haven’t had in a while. They addressed some of their coverage issues taking Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell with their first pick of the second round. And their fourth pick was a bit of a head scratcher, considering Meyer’s praise of the current players on the offensive line over the last four months.

“Our offensive line is pretty good. It’s not a blow-up offensive line,” Meyer said at Lawrence’s pro day. “You know, we got some other areas we got to fix. There’s some good pieces there but we’re gonna make it even better.”

The Jaguars went so far as to put the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, giving him a ten-fold raise in the process.

But with the fourth pick, an ‘impact’ player according to Meyer, they took Stanford offensive lineman Walker Little, who is anything but. At 6’7” 333 lbs., Little didn’t play in 2020. He said the Jaguars have talked to him about both left and right tackle but admitted “I’m just an offensive lineman prospect for them.”

He’ll compete for a backup spot on the offensive line with the thought he’ll eventually be a starter.

Little and their first pick in the third round, defensive back Andre Cisco, haven’t played football at all in the last year because of injury. That’s been part of Trent Baalke’s history as a General Manager.

“It’s risk, reward,” he said Friday night.

Now the reality sets in. Projections mean nothing. Forty speed, vertical jump, bench press, none of those mean a thing. You might be looking for athletes on paper, but on the field, you’re looking for football players.

It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from a movie in the early ‘70’s “The Candidate.” Robert Redford plays an idealistic, first time politician who is put up for election as fodder against an incumbent. It’s a great foreshadowing of what political campaigning has become in the television, media age. (“Wag The Dog’” is another.) The catch is, he’s supposed to lose. On Election Day candidate Redford pulls out a surprising victory. At the post-election celebration, he spots his campaign manager across the room and mouths “Now what?”

And that’s the question for the Jaguars: Now what?

Things like this never happen to this franchise. It started with them losing a coin toss to Carolina to get the first pick of their first draft in 1995. They’d have taken Tony Boselli no matter, but good fortune has never smiled on the franchise. They’ve always been one player, one play or one draft pick away from what they really want to be.

And save for a one-off year in 2017, they’ve been irrelevant for over a decade.

Not anymore.

The selection of Lawrence instantly puts the national spotlight on the Jaguars. But it’s the rest of the team makeover that will determine what they do on the field. They have their quarterback; they spent some money restocking in free agency and looked to the not-too-distant future with their draft picks.

But now what?

Every NFL team has a forty percent turnover each year. That means twenty of the fifty-three players on the game day roster will be different.

For the Jaguars, that number will be much higher.

“Jacksonville will be the most different looking team in the NFL,” long time NFL writer Peter King said before the draft. “Not just because they’re taking Trevor Lawrence, but they have a new coach who wants to impact every part of the team. Who are they keeping? At linebacker, they’ll say, ‘Myles Jack, you’re staying. Everybody else we’ll see when the season starts.”

That seems to be what the coaching staff is bringing across the board: competition at every position.

Will they be better? Las Vegas has put the over/under win total at six. That’s a whole lot better than one for sure, but you have to think with all of the changes they’ve made, they’re betting the over right away. Meyer nearly scoffed at the idea of a “rebuild plan” when asked about what kind of patience he thinks he’ll have with a new team.

“Well, the way I’ve always looked at everything is—at the moment whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to be playing,” he said. “And that’s every position at that moment who gives us the best chance to win and that there is an incredible amount of urgency. I told our players that, all due respect, the four-, five-, six-year plans, that’s not that plan at all. The plan is to try to do the very best to win. Every time we line up, we try to win.”

With the draft over it seems like an inordinate amount of work to add under a dozen unproven players. But all of that research doesn’t go to waste.

“Sometimes people say we made all those reports, and we only took a few players,” one personnel director noted. “My response always is, ‘We just made the first report for our pro personnel department on the other guys. They go right to that database, so you have it in September when they get cut or two Septembers from now.’

When they tell players every move they make on or off the field around an NFL team counts, they mean it. They’re not just auditioning for one team but for all thirty-two at the same time. And not just for today. That information is stored and leaned on for years to come.

That’s why Nick Saban’s “And Or But,” description is so accurate.

“I tell players they can help themselves in a lot of ways,” the current Alabama and former NFL Head Coach said this week. “When a team puts together a report on a player on height, weight, speed, hands, whatever, there can be an ‘and’ that includes ‘he’s a good teammate, great character. Or there can be a ‘but’ ‘he had a fight in the locker room, has a drug charge.’ Do you want to be an ‘and’ or a ‘but?”’

There’s one more situation where the scouts stick with the current class before moving on to next year. They’ll start looking at 2022 in earnest around Memorial Day but when this 2021 class takes the field, they have a rooting interest.

For the Jaguars, that’s scheduled for May 17th when the rookies will be on the field together for the first time in their own rookie mini-camp.
“You just don’t want to go out at rookie camp and see a guy you really fought for struggle,” one scout explained. “You want him to get off to a good start,”

After a lot of ‘no fun’ years following the Jaguars, don’t we all.

Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence

Forget Them

Over the past week social media has been ablaze with comments about the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence. Jaguars fans are giddy at the prospect of holding the number one choice in the April NFL Draft and the Clemson quarterback being chosen to wear black and teal.

Everybody else it seems, isn’t so happy with the prospect that a potential big-name talent would ply his trade in and outpost like Jacksonville.

Times Union columnist Gene Frenette outlined in these pages this week how the rest of the world will just have to buck up an accept the fact that in all likelihood, Lawrence is the next Jaguars quarterback.

In this new year, looking forward, I’ll add to that, euphemistically saying:

“Forget them.”

All of the talk about changing the draft process to a lottery and how Lawrence might refuse to sign with Jacksonville and stay at Clemson are a bit far-fetched. You can cite John Elway with Baltimore, Bo Jackson with Tampa Bay and even Eli Manning with San Diego as examples of top players forcing their way out of one franchise and into another.

All three of those had to do with ownership problems. Robert Irsay in Baltimore was famously loud and cheap. Hugh Culverhouse seemed to be content with just making money and Dean Spanos in San Diego never seemed interested in putting much effort into a winner. Shad Khan, despite his won/loss record as an owner, doesn’t have that kind of reputation. He’ll spend money and if he makes the right hire at General Manager, that person will have whatever tools they need to build something here. That’s why the GM hire is so critical.

Look at what’s happening in Buffalo as an example. A division title for the first time in forever thanks to solid personnel decisions and the right quarterback. (And the fact that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay.)

There is some skepticism about Lawrence’s ability to play at the professional level. Some question his toughness or his ‘spindly’ frame and wonder aloud if he’s built for the pro game. Legitimate questions, but he’s excelled at every level he’s ever played.

If you’re a franchise that needs a quarterback, he’s the obvious pick among those that might be available. Head and shoulders, literally, above the rest.

There seems to be an unusual amount of vitriol when it comes to Jacksonville as an NFL city and the potential home for a “golden boy” in the league. Fans have wondered aloud why it’s OK when Detroit is terrible and gets Matthew Stafford or when Cincinnati is awful and gets Joey Burrow. And even when the Colts are really bad, three times in the last thirty years, and get Jeff George, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with the number one pick. But when Jacksonville has the first pick for the first time ever, let’s change the rules.

That’s not happening. They might change the rules, but not this year. The Jaguars will have the number one pick.

That bias against our city and our franchise isn’t perceived, it’s real. As the Jacksonville representative over the past twenty-six years at all sorts of official NFL functions, I’ve seen it, and heard it, firsthand. It’s such a regular part of meetings and television commentary you’d think we’d be used to it by now.

Whether it’s comments about attendance or performance, the Jaguars get to be the butt of the joke. Even in Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day,” the Jaguars are swindled by his character who’s running CLEVELAND, of all franchises.

Sitting in a Hall of Fame meeting, a prominent member of the national media started his comments with, “We all know the league has admitted that putting a franchise in Jacksonville was a mistake.”

I interrupted with, “You know I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you right?” That got a laugh, but the perception of our city is that somehow, we tricked the NFL into giving us a team.

The only thing that hasn’t happened as the NFL projected into the future for Jacksonville in 1993, is corporate growth. The population has expanded but attracting businesses here hasn’t kept up with say, Nashville in the process. Blame that on civic leadership. It’s got nothing to do with ownership or the fans.

When the league awarded the Super Bowl here in 2005 the city rolled up its sleeves and put on a show every day and every night. But still got hammered because we weren’t Miami, or Tampa or New Orleans. Which is just fine with us, we don’t want to be any of those places. But if you’re not from here, you don’t understand that.

When media comes here, they’re confused and sometimes even intimidated by the fact that we’re comfortable in our own skin. There were a few glitches surrounding the Super Bowl but because it was a new experience, in Jacksonville, we bore the brunt of the jokes.

Generally respected commentator Howie Long makes it a point when hired as a corporate speaker to point out how terrible Jacksonville was as a Super Bowl host. His evidence? The stadium ran out of hot dogs during the game. The fact that the NFL, and not the city, was in charge of that just gets in the way of his story.

One scribe complained that people were WALKING to the game, impeding his bus’s progress to the stadium. “Wait,” I thought. “You’re complaining about people slowing you down on the free bus you’re taking less than a mile to the game, where you’re going for free after your hotel and meals had been picked up by your employer?” Obviously, he had never tried to get to the game in Miami or Glendale.

If you went from the airport to the Hyatt, then to the stadium and back to the airport, as most reporters do, you didn’t get to see much of Jacksonville. And that’s true in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and almost every other NFL city. The difference here, for that crowd, is the lack of strip clubs and late-night drinking establishments.

Did you realize that every head coach the Jaguars have ever had, save for Jack Del Rio, still lives here? Doug Marrone said he and his family aren’t leaving. Even if he’s coaching somewhere else, Marrone said, “I love this town.” Walk in any Publix and you’re libel to run into a former Jaguar player who realized what we have and who we are. And stayed.

If this is such a terrible place, why are all of those people from the northeast moving here?

We’ve got our problems, just like any other city. I don’t know what the long-term future of the Lot J project is, but I do know that for the first time in a while, somebody is talking about putting money, albeit some of it ours, into our town.

Our current administration has an issue with transparency and the Jaguars sometimes seem detached from the city. But those are OUR problems to deal with, not somebody from the outside’s right to lob insults from the peanut gallery.

Barring something weird happening, Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in the draft, and the Jaguars hold that spot.

As I said earlier, euphemistically about the naysayers:

“Forget them.”

Trevor Lawrence

It’s the Quarterback

There’s always been a discussion about the most important position in sports. It usually comes down to the pitcher in baseball and the quarterback in football. If baseball was only played every four days, pitcher would be the runaway winner in that discussion. A pitcher can control a baseball game from the mound nearly singlehandedly. Individually, it’s the most dominant position in sports.

But from a team standpoint, they’re playing baseball every day. A pitcher can’t throw every day. With football games that count being played once a week, the quarterback is the most important player on the field for both teams.

History bears that out in both professional and college football.

Twenty-one of the last twenty-five Super Bowls have been won by teams with a quarterback who’s either in the Hall of Fame or appears headed there.

Just a quick look back at the College Football Playoff and the National Championship in recent years turns up names like Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagoviaola, Jalen Hurts, and Deshaun Watson.

How do you win a football game? Have a quarterback.

Part of the discussion about championship quarterbacks always includes Trent Dilfer and the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl title in 2000. Dilfer is cited as the only non-elite quarterback, a game manager, who wears a Super Bowl ring. But that’s it. A list of one. You could throw Brad Johnson in there, but in the last twenty-five years, it’s elite quarterbacks who have gotten their team to the title.

To win at football, the quarterback is the lynchpin, often the difference between victory and defeat. That’s why you can’t pass on acquiring that “franchise” quarterback if you’re trying to build a winner at any level.

I asked Sam Huff once about the difference between the Giants and the Colts in their two NFL championship games in ’58 and ’59.

“They had (Johnny) Unitas and we didn’t. End of story,” he deadpanned.

It didn’t sit well with Brett Favre when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round. But it kept Green Bay competitive as Favre’s Hall of Fame career waned. Rodgers wasn’t happy this year when the Packers took Jordan Love in the first round, but Green Bay is already looking to the future.

When that quarterback is there, you can’t pass him up.

The Jaguars opponent this week, Cincinnati, is a good example of making that move. The Bengals had Andy Dalton as their starter for nine years but quickly moved onto Burrow when they had the chance.

But it’s never a lock drafting a quarterback and the Bengals are also a good example of that. They took Akili Smith with the third pick in the 1999 draft and he only played 22 games for Cincinnati. Famously, the Chargers took Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick in 1998, now commonly thought of as the biggest bust of a first round pick ever.

As the game has evolved, the quarterback position has become more important.

There have been twenty-six drafts since the Jaguars started in 1995. In those twenty-six drafts, seventeen quarterbacks were the overall first pick. In the twenty-five years before that, eight quarterbacks were the first pick. And in the twenty-five years before that just six: Terry Baker, Randy Duncan, King Hill, George Shaw, Bobby Garrett and Bill Wade. While Hill and Shaw had extended careers, none of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

Hindsight might be 20-20, but at this point it’s hard not to notice that nine teams passed on Patrick Mahomes and eleven passed on Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, including the Jaguars. Despite their interest in Watson, the Jaguars thought they were just one piece away. They stayed with Blake Bortles and took Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick in that draft. It paid off with a trip to the AFC Championship game that year, but then it fell apart quickly.

When Florida, Florida State, Miami and Georgia were regular contenders for the National Championship, quarterbacks were the key.

Steve Spurrier was a quarterback, Bobby Bowden was a quarterback. Both knew the importance of that position from a performance and leadership perspective. Both collected quarterbacks on their roster regardless of who was already there.

“Who’s the quarterback,” was a daily story for the Gators under Spurrier. Steve wasn’t shy recruiting quarterbacks, changing them or rotating guys between snaps. He took Danny Wuerffel out of the Georgia game in ’93 in favor of Terry Dean. Dean, Eric Kresser, Doug Johnson, Noah Brindise, Jesse Palmer and Rex Grossman all made news as quarterbacks under Spurrier. Getting Chris Leak out of North Carolina changed the entire recruiting dynamic at Florida and led them to two National Championships. Tim Tebow won the Heisman wearing the Orange and Blue. Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel, Will Grier and Cam Newton were on the Gators’ roster before a career in the NFL.

Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston all won the Heisman Trophy at FSU. Casey Weldon, Peter Tom Willis, Danny Kanell and Christian Ponder all kept the Seminoles competitive. E.J. Manuel was a first round pick out of Tallahassee.

It’s an eye opener to see Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde on the same Miami roster in 1982. Mark Richt was also a quarterback on that team, The Hurricanes continued their success with Ken Dorsey, Heisman winner Gino Toretta and Steve Walsh.

At Georgia in the last thirty years Eric Zeier, Quincy Carter, D.J. Shockley, Matt Stafford, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm all brought success to the Bulldogs.

When did those programs begin to falter? When the quarterback came into question. This might be a weird year in college football but it’s still the quarterback who will make the difference.

Kyle Trask presents as many questions as answers for the Gators. Georgia’s uncertainty at quarterback has called their whole season into question. James Blackman has never been able to establish himself in Tallahassee. Miami’s search for a quarterback at “Quarterback U” has landed on D’Eriq King to lead them out of the college football wilderness.

This year’s contenders for the National Championship revolve around quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence leads Clemson as the overwhelming favorite to win the title. Alabama’s hopes are pinned on Bolles graduate Mack Jones. Justin Fields makes Ohio State dangerous once they start playing later this month. And even Texas is back in the picture because of Sam Ehlinger.

So learn the lesson. No matter who you have, if the quarterback is there, take him.