It is officially game week in the NFL, and for the first time Urban Meyer will prepare his team for a regular-season bout. It is set to be a key week in the first year of the Meyer era, as the Jaguars learn exactly what their game weeks will look like for the next 17-plus weeks.
The Jaguars held practice on Monday and Meyer addressed the local media afterward, with the first-year head coach revealing a number of important injury updates, as well as the status of one key important role in the defense.
With just six days to go before the Jaguars kick off the 2021 season against the Houston Texans on the road, Meyer and the Jaguars had an eventful Monday. Here is everything of note that Meyer revealed as his team prepped for the Texans game.
Who starts across Rayshawn Jenkins? It is down to these two options
There are very few positions on the Jaguars' defense that aren't clear in terms of the depth chart entering Week 1. The starting cornerbacks, linebackers and defensive linemen have already been determined, but one spot that hasn't been as clear has been the safety spot across from free agent addition Rayshawn Jenkins. The Jaguars released former starting safety Jarrod Wilson last week while Rudy Ford is the Jaguars' dime safety, leaving Meyer's options down to third-year veteran Andrew Wingard and third-round rookie Andre Cisco.
“Starting — it’s an “or” I believe right now. I believe it is [Andrew] Wingard or him [Andre Cisco] at the other safety and then you have Rayshawn [Jenkins] at the one," Meyer said.
It isn't clear as of now which Jaguar defender has the edge on the starting gig. Cisco was ranked highly by the Jaguars' staff leading up to the draft and the No. 65 overall pick earned high praise from Pro Football Focus for his performance during the preseason.
Meanwhile, Wingard has appeared in 29 games and started six over the last two seasons, recording 80 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, three tackles for loss and five pass deflections in the process. Wingard has been considered a special teams ace by past regimes in Jacksonville, but Cisco is the more high-ceiling option. It remains to be seen which way the Jaguars are leaning, but there appears to be at least a chance of Wingard playing significant snaps on Sunday.
Meyer expects entire offensive line back for Week 1
The Jaguars started a wide variety of offensive line combinations throughout the preseason, but not out of desire. The Jaguars' unit faced numerous injuries, knocking out the entire left side of their line for the bulk of preseason, while they started just one of their top linemen in the final week of the preseason.
Preseason Week 1 OL: Cam Robinson-Ben Bartch-Brandon Linder-A.J. Cann-Jawaan Taylor
Preseason Week 2 OL: Walker Little-Ben Bartch-Tyler Shatley-A.J. Cann-Jawaan Taylor
Preseason Week 3 OL: Walker Little-Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms-Tyler Shatley-Will Richardson Jr.-Jawaan Taylor
Luckily for the Jaguars, it appears the offensive line is trending in the right direction. Starting right guard A.J. Cann was activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday morning, while Meyer said after practice the team has finally put its starting line back together in practice.
“Game week —obviously they [players] were off three days and they came back with great energy and I am really proud of them and then we have another off day tomorrow but really good work today. It helps when you have your linemen back — everybody should be ready to play Sunday so that really lifts up practice right there," Meyer said.
DJ Chark shows improvement from his hand injury in practice
It has been a long time since we have seen DJ Chark at 100%. The former second-round pick spent the entire preseason and the bulk of the training camp injured with a hand injury that would require surgery, but the entire plan and expectation have always been for him to be back vs. Houston -- which Chark himself confirmed last week. And on Monday, Meyer made it clear that the Jaguars' big-play threat has made a big leap in his progress toward being prepared for the Texans game.
“Oh yeah, he is in the right place — actually caught the ball really well today too," Meyer said.
This is the first hint at Chark catching the ball since his injury, which is a significant milestone in his recovery. As of today, everything is pointing toward Chark being available for Meyer and Trevor Lawrence in Houston, which is an important development considering the lack of Jacksonville's downfield offense without Chark.
We added Tyron [Johnson] — you know when Phillip [Dorsett II] yanked his hamstring and DJ [Chark Jr.] really did not play at all — we were limited now and there was a time where we just did not throw the ball down the field, and I felt much better when we had Devin [Smith] and DJ [Chark Jr.] looked really good today by the way," Meyer said.
"This Tyron [Johnson] guy can really run so until we get Phillip [Dorsett II] back — running an offense without exceptional speed outside — I don’t know that offense, I don’t want to know that offense and I don’t want anything to do with that offense, so we have to have speed.”
Meyer provides update on the health of the secondary
The Jaguars aren't entering Sunday's game with many cornerbacks on the roster, with the Jaguars leaving just five corners on their initial 53-man roster. Among those five players, two are currently dealing with injuries: rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell and fourth-year veteran Tre Herndon, each of whom is slotted to be Jacksonville's top options in the slot. Luckily for the Jaguars, they should have at least one of those two cover men back in time for Week 1. Campbell, the No. 33 overall pick, flashed throughout the preseason, is likely to play, per Meyer, while Herndon has already been ruled out for the contest.
“Getting close — two, three, he [Tre Herndon] will not play this one. [Tyson] Campbell, he will play.”
Jaguars conduct a deep dive into Tyrod Taylor's career ahead of Sunday
The Jaguars will officially play Tyrod Taylor on Sunday, with the Texans' staff at long last anointing Taylor their starting quarterback on Monday. This was always the expectation, however, and Meyer made it clear on Monday just how much the Jaguars have prepared for Taylor. Not only is this Taylor's first year with the Texans, but the team is under new leadership in head coach David Culley, leaving a lot of guesswork for the Jaguars and Meyer.
"It is going to be Tyrod [Taylor] their quarterback and we went all the way back and studied some of the things he has done in the past as well — very talented quarterback. You have to do more than just the preseason when you are prepping," Meyer said.
Taylor has extensive experience in the NFL, appearing in 72 games and starting 47 over the last 10 seasons. The veteran passer has a 1-1 record against the Jaguars, with his last start against the team coming during Jacksonville's Wild Card victory in the 2017 postseason. There is plenty of tape out there on Taylor, which is what the Jaguars and Meyer are leaning on as they prepare for Week 1.
Meyer, Jaguars taking COVID-19 protocols and safety measures to serious levels ahead of season opener
Two teams placed starting offensive linemen on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in recent days, with the Dallas Cowboys putting their top lineman Zack Martin on the list just days ahead of their Thursday Night Football season-opener, knocking him out of the game. The Miami Dolphins also put starting left tackle Austin Jackson on the list on Monday, which means they could potentially start the season with backup left tackle Greg Little in the lineup. Meyer and the Jaguars have noticed recent trends as key starters throughout the league end up on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, with Meyer noting Monday that the Jaguars are taking extended measures as a result.
“Last year, obviously I wasn’t involved but there were horror stories that people would come in and you three guys, you five guys and whatever. I saw some coach saying the lack of interaction with your players because you are looking at an iPad or a screen. That is no way to coach but unfortunately, we had to do that," Meyer said.
"This is nothing — we are extremely cautious right now. Matter of fact, I saw where the Cowboys lost a player and we got AJ Cann back today, but we re-did the meeting rooms, we spaced them out even more. We just are really taking that 6 feet as serious as you can — even the vaccinated guys.”