The Jacksonville Jaguars returned to the practice field on Friday for their third day of training camp. Fans packing the stands and surrounding the fields were treated to a welcome by Head Coach Urban Meyer, who encouraged them to bring the same passion and energy to games this fall.
Fans in attendance also got to see glimpses of their future as rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence had another impressive day.
We examine Lawrence’s day, the other rookies who stood out and the one practice play that will keep tongues wagging up to the season begins.
It’s Lawrence and Everyone Else
Offensive lineman Brandon Linder was questioned after practice if there was a quarterback competition.
“However you wanna say it, it’s two guys playing the same position.”
Technically he is correct. It is Lawerence versus Gardner Minshew II, the incumbent. After bouncing back on Thursday, Minshew had another solid day on Friday. He had some drops from receivers in redzone work, but also tossed at least three touchdowns. However, the drops—which would normally be put on the receiver—are where Lawrence starts to separate himself.
His touch on the ball sets Lawrence apart. Without sacrificing accuracy, Lawrence can float a pass to capitalize on timing and space, making sure his receiver doesn’t have to fight to catch a dart. The difference was seen in plays like a Minshew pass to DJ Chark that had too much heat and bounced of Chark’s hands, versus one from Lawrence to Josh Hammond that allowed the practice squad receiver a quick catch and turn upfield for a touchdown. It’s little things like that which puts a passer on another level. We always talk about receivers having soft hands, but the quarterback can help with that. Lawrence does.
The Jags primarily worked in the redzone on Friday, letting all team drills take place in the all important area. Within the 20-yard line is where that “touch” becomes even more important. It’s not about power or getting a ball 30-yards on air in the redzone. It’s about putting one in the right spot and making sure the receiver can haul it in with ease.
This was evident time and again with the Jaguars No. 1 overall pick. One throw in particular to Collin Johnson in the corner of the endzone was lofted so only his receiver could catch it.
There is a grain of salt that comes with this commentary. Defenders can’t break on the ball and there are no pads on, eliminating contact up front. Lawrence’s deep shot to Jalen Camp during drills would’ve been broken up (although Camp had enough of the ball to make sure it wouldn’t be intercepted). But those mistakes are few and far between.
Lawrence's and Etienne's Chemistry Stands Out
In the ongoing rotation that Meyer is employing for the time being, today was Lawrence’s day to work with the second team. That also meant there were more on-field hookups with Travis Etienne. The former Clemson Tigers teammates were reunited when both were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the Jaguars.
On Friday, the two flashed reminders of what made them such a formidable duo at Clemson. Again in the redzone, Etienne ran a route that was known to only he and Lawrence. Fooling three defenders at once, Etienne came back for a ball that allowed him a wide open touchdown. It was a perfect example of a connection that can only be built with time and chemistry, both of which Lawrence and Etienne have developed over the last three years.
It’s hard for the defense to stand out during this portion of training camp. This is especially true right now for defensive backs. The Jags aren’t allowing them to play press, given the fines levied against the franchise earlier in the offseason for just such plays.
Still, some guys found their plays, getting in front of a throw in such a way that it was clear they would’ve caused even more disruption if allowed to play at full throttle. Corner Shaquill Griffin in particular was always around the ball, and getting a hand in on a throw from CJ Beathard. Corner Sidney Jones IV did the same, also on a pass from Beathard, batting away what should’ve been a touchdown pass.
If former first rounder CJ Henderson continues to miss time while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Griffin and Jones could practice themselves into the two starting roles with ease.
Defensive end Josh Allen has worked relentlessly this offseason, as he relayed to reporters after practice. It showed up in a swim move he used to get around the right side of the offensive line for what would have been a sack or at least a quarterback hurry in a regular game.
Let's Talk Tebow
Yes, we’re going to talk about Tim Tebow some. The tight-end purposely stays small, fighting against the personality and presence that made him famous in college but is unneeded in the NFL. He is also physically smaller than the other guys in his unit. That’s a strange statement to make about a guy who has always seemed larger than life. And he is still in impeccable shape, ready to step in to a demanding game once again. But next to guys who have been molded to become NFL tight ends, Tebow looks smaller.
Yet when it’s his turn to step up for a rep, he delivers. Given the current offseason depth of the unit, he doesn’t get many chances, but he’s taking advantage when they arrive and not dropping any balls. That’s a small thing that can make a big difference when it comes time to cut-down on the roster.
In typical Tebow fashion, he’s also using those reps to throw his body into what is asked of him. For comparison, a ball thrown from Gardner Minshew for Ben Ellefson was a little under and outside. But Ellefson was also in isolation. He could’ve dove and made the catch for a touchdown. It stood out considering just a few reps earlier, on the opposite end of the endzone, Tebow dived, laying out his 33-year old body to make the catch for the touchdown.
Tebow is clearly rough and a project. But that sort of effort stands out to coaches.