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Trevor Lawrence - Jacksonville Jaguars

To Rate A Quarterback

When the Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft last April, he became the twenty-first quarterback taken with the top pick in the last three decades. Two of those twenty-one, Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman, are in the Hall of Fame. Only one other, Eli Manning has won a Super Bowl. Among the eighteen remaining, only two, Cam Newton and Drew Bledsoe ever got their team to the title game.

For some, the jury is still out as Lawrence will become the eighth active quarterback in the league who was a number one pick. Quarterbacks have been the top pick the last four years and six of the last seven. That position is always over-valued in the draft, but clearly the expectations are high. When a team spends the number one pick on that position, they hope it changes the fortunes of their franchise.

“Wins and losses in the long run the first year don’t matter,” said Hall of Fame personnel evaluator Bill Polian. A six-time NFL executive of the year, Polian this week said what you look for in that first year for your franchise quarterback is “progress.”

“Peyton still laughs about his rookie year,” Polian said of the 3-13 finish for the Colts in 1998. “He still holds the record for interceptions by a rookie (28).”

While every throw, every step, every play this week by Lawrence has been dissected and charted by fans and the media, Polian says it’s a broader view that will let you know if your quarterback is going to make it or not.

“Players improve week to week, not really day to day,” the Hall of Famer said of the evaluation process. “At the end of the week ‘is he progressing’ will be the question the coaches are asking each other. That’s important in camp and in the preseason games. It’s not necessarily what the fans see. It’s how he’s managing the game, the command of the huddle, the command of the offense. And then being able to put it into practice when the lights go on.”

Quarterbacks who have played in the league say the same thing: there will be ups and downs for a rookie because it’s a different game. Faster, more complex, and for the first time, you see defensive players better than any you’ve played against.

“Trevor will have great practices and games and bad practices and games,” said Matt Robinson, a ninth-round pick for the New York Jets out of Georgia. “You need to get past the bad ones to have more great ones.”

And how you get past those bad days and on to the good ones is completely different in pro football according to Steve Pisarkiewicz, a first round pick by the Cardinals after a college career at Missouri.

“It’s a different game,” ‘Sark’ said about the transition to the pro game. “You spend the whole preseason doing the installs and learning the playbook. You might practice a play four times in one practice in college. In pro football they don’t have that kind of time, especially not now with the practice restrictions. They’ll practice a play once in the pros and talk about it in the film room. That’s where you have to adjust.”

Getting support from the coaching staff and your teammates is important for a rookie quarterback to develop. Some get it and some don’t. David Carr was so beat up after his rookie year he was never the same.

“That’s so important,” Polian stressed regarding supporting a rookie quarterback. “Late in Peyton’s rookie year we were in Baltimore in a tight game late. We have the ball and Peyton has an audible route to Marvin and he’s open in the end zone. And either Marvin ran the wrong route or Peyton threw the wrong route, but it didn’t work, and we lost. I told them after (Head Coach) Jim Mora talked to them and said, ‘this will never happen again. I’ve seen you guys’ work. Don’t worry, this won’t happen again. And it didn’t.”

Having played at the highest level and competed for championships during his college career at Clemson, Trevor Lawrence comes into the pro game one step ahead of most rookie quarterbacks making the transition to the next level. But there are things he’ll have to learn.

“Your pre-snap reads are everything,” Pisarkiewicz explained. “You don’t know that as a rookie. In college, you don’t see how teams disguise their coverages like they do in the pros. They tighten up the seams for throws in the pro game.”

Nobody doubts Lawrence’s physical skills. Polian says he trusts Clemson Head Coach Dabo Sweeney ‘100%’ when it comes to evaluating his players and “He thinks he’s something,” Polian added.

Robinson thinks it’s a little deeper than that when a rookie quarterback sticks his head into the huddle for the first time when the lights are on. If the other ten guys on the field know he knows more about the offense than they do, they’ll trust him.

“The team will follow how Trevor treats the players around him, how much he’s willing to work, and how much respect he gains from his teammates. Robinson said. “If they’re willing to fight for him, he can be the difference between six wins and nine wins as soon as this season.”

What do you look for if you’re not there in every meeting, every film session and every offensive and quarterback meeting? As they like to say in the NFL, is the arrow pointing up?

“I’ll look for calm mechanics,” Pisarkiewicz said. “Footwork, composure. In the NFL he’ll have to operate from the pocket a lot. I’ll look for his poise in the pocket.”

“There’s no magic right now for Trevor,” Robinson added. “He’s a great player. He’s had great success. At this level, it’s about how he understands the game plan. What they’re doing in the first quarter to set things up for the fourth quarter. What the offensive coordinator is trying to do and how it changes week to week, that’s where the magic will happen.”

All things point to Lawrence being under center in the Jaguars first game against Houston. Other quarterbacks, like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, sat for at least their rookie year. Polian said that’s always beneficial, but in the case of a generational player like Lawrence, similar to Manning, the combination of his physical talent and his emotional makeup almost demands you put him in the game.

“For the first time in your life you’re going to get slings and arrows and you’re going to play against guys who are as good as you,” he explained. “When you’re in college, you’re better than everybody. He has to have played a lot of football and played in a program that has similar concepts to the pro game. I’ll tell you this, It’s not for everybody.”

If Polian was writing a scouting report on Lawrence, he said it would go something like this:

“Big arm, great athlete with great poise. Very football savvy. His football IQ is high. He’s a leader who played at the highest level. There’s nothing that would lead you to believe that he couldn’t succeed.”

And he added, “I don’t know what his emotional IQ is, but I know the Jaguars do. If you’re going to be great in the NFL, you’ve got to make the sacrifices. Unless you’re fully engaged, you’re not going to make it. The league is too tough.”

And this year might not provide the answers. Charting quarterbacks in practice might be a good hobby, but as we’ve seen with previous Jaguars quarterbacks, when the lights go on inside the stadium, that can be something totally different.

At the end of the season is progress being made? Is the arrow pointing up?

“Is your quarterback getting more efficient? Are you seeing growth?” Polian concluded. “You look at the careers of all of the greats, the arrow is up at the end of the first year they play. And that’s when they make the biggest jump, after the first year.”

And some of it you can only see happen when it counts.

” As the quarterback, if you empower those other guys on offense, they’ll get the job done,” Robinson explained. “It only happens when the quarterback is on the field in the heat of the moment.”

Trevor Lawrence

Where Do The Wins Come From?

By the middle of this week, all thirty-two NFL teams will be in training camp. Hope springs eternal in the league this time of year. Fans are pouring over the schedule, looking at the starting lineups, the injuries, the rookies added, and the veterans traded to come up with idea about what their team could be in 2021.

For Jaguars fans, it’s a difficult prediction because of all the new faces wearing teal and black. While most teams turn over about forty percent of their roster every year, the Jaguars number will be much higher than that.

Toss in a new head coach and a new system, and while the Jaguars have better personnel on paper than in the past, who knows what kind of actual team they’ll be come?

A couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas, a friend asked me to put $200 on the “over” for Jaguars wins this season. The oddsmakers have that number at six and a half.

“I’ll take $200 on number 128,” I told the clerk behind the cage in the sportsbook at The Wynn, giving her the line number of the Jaguars over win total on the board.

“One twenty-eight?” she asked as if she’d never heard anybody make that bet before.

“Yes, Jacksonville over,” I said with a laugh, acknowledging her question.

“OK!” she said with a rue smile, shaking her head as she printed the ticket.

At the time you had to bet $105 to win a hundred if you thought the Jaguars would win more than six games. You had to plunk down $140 to win a hundred if you thought the “under” would come through.

“Oh, we’ll win at least seven games,” my friend “Foul Ball” told me without the slightest bit of hyperbole last week. “We could win ten,” he added.

“Where do the wins come from?” I asked, echoing the question my friend “The Ghost” always asks.

“We’ll beat the Texans twice,” he explained. “And split with Indy and the Titans, so that’s four right there. Plus, we play the Bengals and the Lions, and we’ll beat the Dolphins in London so that’s seven. At least.”

All of that is easy to say, and certainly plausible. A 1-15 team improving to seven wins might not be unprecedented, but it certainly would be unusual. When the Browns went 0-16, they drafted Baker Mayfield with the number one pick and went 6-7 in games he started his rookie year. A significant turnaround that gave Browns’ fans hope and proved to be a building block for making Cleveland a contender.

Checking with my reporter colleagues in other NFL towns, they’re not impressed with what has happened in Jacksonville, at least not yet.

“The Cowboys were an established team, they had gone to the playoffs in the ‘90’s,” one scribe told me. “They brought in a super successful college coach in Jimmy Johnson and used the number one pick on Troy Aikman and they went 1-15. They eventually won three Super Bowls and they’re both in the Hall of Fame but it’s an adjustment. It’s a different game.”

“For the first time in a long time Urban Meyer will step on the field and not ‘out-talent’ the opponent,” another scribe noted. “Even with the changes they’ve made this year to the roster, at best in their first year, he’ll have a team that’s equal in talent to the guys on the other sideline. Nobody’s worried about the Jaguars except maybe the Texans. At least not this year.”

In the last decade, teams who finished last in their division one year and won it the next has happened ten times. The Jaguars are one of those teams, going 3-13 in 2016 and flipping that to 10-6 the following year, winning their first AFC South title during a run to the AFC Championship game

Two of the biggest turnarounds have happened in the Jaguars division. The Indianapolis Colts went from 3-13 in Peyton Manning’s rookie year to 13-3 the following season. And the year Manning was hurt, the Colts used their first overall pick on Andrew Luck and went from 2-14 to 11-5 with Luck as their starting quarterback.

Changing the quarterback is one of the common threads for teams with big turnarounds. The Cowboys put Dak Prescott in the lineup when Tony Romo was hurt and went from 4-12 to 13-3 between 2015 and 2016. The Chiefs changed their coach and their quarterback between 2012 and 2013 and went from 2-14 to 11-5 with Andy Reid and Alex Smith.

Winning with a rookie quarterback is the exception and not the rule in the NFL. But it is possible. Prescott is one example. Winning thirteen games in his rookie year ties him with Ben Roethlisberger for the most wins by a rookie quarterback. Luck won eleven times as a rookie. In the last twenty years Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan did the same. Lamar Jackson won ten games as a rookie in 2018 for Baltimore and Kyle Orton won ten for Chicago in 2005. Jaguars’ fans no doubt would take the nine wins Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton and Chase Daniel all posted in their rookie campaigns.

Where do the wins come from? Looking at the schedule they need to come early in the year for the Jaguars. While Jaguars fans have W’s and L’s next to this season’s opponents, there’s not one fan base, maybe outside of Houston, that looks at the schedule and sees the Jaguars and doesn’t say, “Ok, that’s a win.”

“If you break the season down into quarters, you hope they go 2-2 in the first four games,” the “Ghost” said, dissecting the schedule with his regular analytical way.

“In that second quarter, they probably have an advantage over the Dolphins playing in London and in the third quarter between the Colts, Niners, Falcons and Rams you hope to get two wins there,” he added.

According to Ghost’s calculations, getting to six or seven wins comes down to the final five games against Tennessee, the Texans, Jets, Patriots and Colts.

“Optimistically you come up with seven,” he concluded. “I think they play better from the middle of the year on. What happens when they face some kind of adversity? Urban Meyer hasn’t faced that in the pro game. I’m hoping they’re just competitive and entertaining in every game, that’s all.”

“If I’m going to bet, I’ll bet the under. That way if I’m disappointed by the season at least I win some money. I think it’s the under, but I hate to root that way.”

With the Texans in disarray and rebuilding, the Jaguars are about a three-point favorite in their opener at Houston. That’s different since the Jaguars were not favored in a single game during last year’s 1-15 season. From there, the Jaguars have two home games against Denver and Arizona where they’re already underdogs in both. From a preseason perspective, it’s hard to see where the they would be favored the rest of the season outside of a trip on a Thursday night to Cincinnati, playing the Dolphins in London or perhaps when the Texans visit here.

And experienced handicapper, my friend “Wooly” has the rare ability to be a super fan but never bets with his heart. He has different hopes for the Jaguars in 2021.

“When I looked at the schedule it just says to me 5-12,” he said somewhat disappointedly. “But I think the losses will be more exciting. You have to learn how to win in that league. The only way to do that is to not be out of the game by halftime. If they lose some of the games in the fourth quarter, that’ll give them an idea about how they could win those games.”

Breaking down the schedule, Wooly admitted it got tougher as the year went on, especially having to play the NFC West. All four teams in that division could be playoff contenders.

“You hope they have some last possession games, and they have some excitement in the fourth quarter,” he added. “Even if they lose, it could give them some optimism. I’m hoping their progress outmatches their record.”

And there’s one other thing Wooly would like to see change if the games are competitive. Right now, nobody’s afraid to come to Jacksonville.

“Outside of 2017, they’ve been a dull team for over ten years,” he explained. “If they provide some kind of entertaining football, playing in Jacksonville will again be a tough place to play for visitors to come here and try to win.”

Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars

Trevor and Tebow A Jaguars Solution

In a conversation this week, I had a couple of Jaguars fans tell me they thought that Head Coach Urban Meyer was “calculating.”

“That’s a good word,” I told them.

It really does seem to be part of Meyer’s personality, and one of things that, to me, is unappealing.

But that calculating trait can’t be overstated on the plus side when it comes to potentially signing Tim Tebow this week. Meyer said yesterday after the rookie camp practice that the staff would meet today to decided what to do with Tim. Which for the Jaguars, Meyer, Jacksonville and Tim, signing him to a contract would be a good thing.

All of the animus toward Tebow, Meyer and the Jaguars comes from the outside. It should make those of us who live here, and especially those who have covered the NFL laugh out loud.

How often was Bill Parcell’s lauded by the media for bringing ‘his guys’ along to whatever team he was coaching at that point. Dave Meggett, Keith Byars and even Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe were among those added to Parcell’s rosters in his four-team, nineteen-year NFL coaching career. They got his message across in the locker room.

Putting Tim on the team isn’t about what he can contribute starting September 12th, it’s about what he can contribute between now and the opener on September 12th.

It’s been hilarious to hear all of the angst and the so-called ‘experts’ weighing in on Tim’s chances and his potential ability as a tight end. Anybody who’s been around Tebow knows he’ll give it his all and see what happens. He’s had a baseball career, he’s been in broadcasting and he still wants to be a football player. In Jacksonville, in the NFL.

He might make the team, and he might not. But bringing him in is a calculated, correct move.

He and Meyer are tight. I’ve been in enough situations with both of them to see the two of them together after practice, walking down the hall after a big victory, standing behind the wall together waiting to enter a press conference to see it.

It’s not your typical player-coach situation. Tim is committed to Meyer and will do what he’s asked. He’s not taking a roster spot from anybody. His chances to make the team are about the same as any other ninetieth player on any NFL training camp roster. He is in the right situation for this team at this time with this coach.

We all also know that the perception of Tebow outside of the people who know him is very different than who he actually is. His commitment to evangelizing his faith can be a turn-off to some but he’s about as straightforward a person that you’ll ever meet.

I was at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago with Peter King, the well-known NFL writer, when he turned to me and said, “I just spent an hour with Tim Tebow.”

“How’d that go,” I asked.

“Is that real,” Peter said, walking down the hallway, knowing I’ve covered Tim and gotten to know him well over the last twenty years.

“You mean who he is?” I replied.

“Yeah, he’s the most earnest and honest person I’ve ever talked with. Is that an act?” he asked, clearly astonished.

“No, that’s who he is,” I said with a chuckle. “It’s not an act, he’s as transparent as it gets. He talks it, but he also walks it. Nothing hidden there.”

“Amazing,” King said as his voice trailed off.

And don’t think Meyer hasn’t thought about the amount of media glare that can be deflected off his new quarterback by putting Tebow on the roster. If Tim’s not there it’s Trevor Time, all the time.

With Tim there, he’ll take some of the media heat just by being. And the amount of media that will be around the Jaguars this summer will be nothing new for Tebow. That’s been his life since leaving high school. Trevor has dealt with a lot of that already, but if he needs any advice on that front, he should look no further than his own locker room to the guy wearing the number one less than his.

Occasionally you’ll hear a coach talk about his own team in terms of the “top” or the “bottom” of the roster. Players are ranked within their own team according to their contributions, usually on the field.

If the Jaguars have ninety players on their roster when training camp opens, it might be fair to say that Trevor Lawrence is at the top of the roster, and perhaps Tim Tebow, about to turn thirty-four years old and five years removed from the league, is at the bottom.

If Tim is the ninetieth player on the roster, what’s expected of somebody who fills that spot? There have been fourth or fifth-string tight ends who have been the ninetieth player on the roster before. They’ll get reps, play scout team and get a chance to show what they can do. Sometimes they make it. Keenan McCardell might have been the ninetieth player on the Washington roster when they drafted him in the twelfth round in 1991 out of UNLV. McCardell went on to become a starter, a Pro Bowl player and won a Super Bowl ring in his seventeen-year career.

Tebow will do all of the things that the ninetieth player on the roster is supposed to do, hustle, fill-in, get a few reps and show what he can do.

But he’ll check a lot of boxes that no other 90th player on any team will. Tebow is on the Jaguars because of his previous relationship with Head Coach Urban Meyer. That’s not new nor is it news. Happens all the time. Especially in the NFL.

Meyer is the coach in Jacksonville and Tim is from here. It’s the only confluence of events that could put Tebow back in the NFL nearing his 34th birthday. Don’t expect Tim to have those locker room exhortations you’ve seen matriculating around the internet from his college days. He’s had success, he’s had failures, he’s gotten married, and he knows the kind of environment that exists in an NFL locker room.

He’ll go about his business, but most importantly, he knows what Urban Meyer expects from the players on his football team. He’s lived it and just by being there and doing, the other players trying to make this team will take their cues on how to get it done.

Does Meyer like it when you show up a half-hour early or does he think that’s patronizing? Does he want two extra reps or four? Tebow has all of the answers to those questions just by being part of the grind.

There were a full group of rookies at their first minicamp as Jaguars yesterday. I’m sure all of them were fast, motivated and trying to shine. But nobody can tell you much about most of them.

They can tell you how Trevor Lawrence walked onto the field, how he put his helmet on, how he took it off, how he drank water and oh yes, they can tell you how he threw the football from the quarterback position.

The answer to that is very well.

Here’s another place I agree with Urban Meyer: You can watch all the tape you want but there’s nothing like standing near a quarterback to see and hear how the ball comes out of his hand.

There’s a singing sound that comes off the ball when somebody can really “spin it” in the modern-day vernacular. You don’t hear that very often and very rarely have we heard that at Jaguars practice.

No more.

“It was really good”, my colleague and friend Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com said with a laugh. “He was limited in his throws (Thirty to forty according to Meyer) but when the ball comes out of his hand, it’s crisp.”

“He’s as good as advertised, on target and on the money,” my trusted colleague here at the Times Union, John Reid said after practice.

Then John gave the assessment of seeing thousands of footballs thrown in practice that only comes from an experienced reporter’s career.

“It comes out spinning and it’s accurate,” John said. “The ball is there when the receiver makes his cut. He doesn’t have to wait on it and it hits him right in the numbers.”

“Oh yeah,” DiRocco agreed. “It’s very different than the quarterback stuff we’ve seen here in the last couple of years. Spinning, crisp, rollouts, drop-backs, didn’t matter.”

In other words, that thing ‘sings’ coming out of his hand. And there was one more thing both Mike and John wanted to relate:

“He looks the part,” Mike said alluding to the whole package of quarterback and first pick overall. “We’ve seen something different before, this was something totally different.”

“He’s got that persona,” John added. “He went from one drill to the next with no problem. He’s the tallest guy out there, he looks big time. He has the intangibles. He’s cool and composed, like he’s done this before. He has the presence of a leader.”

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.