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'We Are Just Scratching the Surface': How Travis Etienne's Liftoff Has Lived Up to Expectations

Jaguars running backs coach Bernie Parmalee hasn't been surprised by what he has seen from second-year running back Travis Etienne. Now, it is about taking his game to the next level.

As scary and even baffling as it seems, Travis Etienne is just getting started. 

Etienne has been everything the Jacksonville Jaguars could have ever hoped for and more through the first 10 games of his career. But that is just the start of what is now expected to be a special journey. 

As Jaguars running back Bernie Parmalee told Jaguar Report -- and Etienne himself -- ahead of the Jaguars' Week 11 bye, the former Clemson star is just starting to show a glimpse of the kind of player he can turn into.

"I just want to see him continue to improve on all aspects of his game. And I told him, I said, 'Listen, man, we are just scratching the surface with what you're doing,'" Parmalee said. 

That has been the common theme at TIAA Bank Field when speaking to Jaguars players and coaches about Etienne. The thought that for as good as Etienne has been, he can still get a lot better. And the idea of a version of Etienne being better than he has been in the first 10 games is staggering.

Etienne has been a revelation for the Jaguars heading into their bye week, rushing 131 times for 725 yards and four touchdowns, along with 22 catches for 202 yards. He hasn't scored 12 touchdowns in 10 games like Fred Taylor did as a rookie or rushed for 822 yards like Leonard Fournette did in his first 10 starts, but his 5.5 yards per carry dwarf's Taylor,s 4.98, Fournette's 3.98, Maurice Jones-Drew's 4.59, and James Robinson's 4.43 over their first 10 starts. 

And the difference is, Etienne wasn't the workhorse from Week 1 like Taylor, Fournette and Robinson were. Their first 10 games consisted of 10 starts, while Etienne's first 10 games have had just five starts. His 131 carries are more than the 82 Jones-Drew saw in his first 10 games, but they still lag behind Fournette (207), Robinson (172), and Taylor (162). 

The one thing missing is Etienne scoring four total touchdowns, which is behind Taylor (12), Fournette (8), Robinson (7) and Jones-Drew (7), with Etienne just having four. The big plays have been there, but so has the potential for even more impact. 

"Even as you know, he's been critical, all of our guys will be critical of their play, always looking at it from that perspective, and how we can continue to get better. So making an assessment of where we are," Parmalee said. "I know he talked about getting in an open field and getting in one on one situations, and making sure that he finished the play, you know, because a lot of times he's used to once he breaking that open, he is used to getting into the pay dirt.

"And you know what, I told him I said sometimes it's you know, everyone can run, it's about how you utilize your body and how you utilize attacking people. So he knows that and that's something that he really wants to get better at and he will get better at.

The No. 25 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Etienne was the most prolific rusher in ACC history at Clemson and was expected to provide big plays from his first game as a Jaguar.

He has done that, too, becoming the Jaguars' most electric weapon right off the bat in 2022. But his first game as a Jaguar was put off by a year due to a Linsfrac injury he sustained in last year's preseason. 

For a year, Etienne had to watch from afar as he rehabbed and missed the chance to get valuable reps. As a result, the version we have seen of Etienne through 10 games is the rawest and most inexperienced version of Etienne that we will ever see. Moving forward, he can only be more seasoned, more experienced, more prepared for what he is set to see.

"Pretty much, you know, I mean, when you sit out an entire year, you know, those are crucial reps at this level because the speed of the game and how it really increased," Parmalee said. 

"He really is a rookie, you know, not only that, he got to get his legs back underneath him because he hasn't played in a year. And now that he's getting more reps, you know, he's got to get his body used to taking that, you know, that workload. So this definitely is his rookie year."

The year away from the field meant Etienne and the Jaguars had to miss out on a year of potential big plays in 2021, but for Etienne it was also a wake-up call. It reminded him how much he loved the game. How much he needed it. How badly he wanted to be great at it.

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Etienne himself has said his injury and time away from the field helped light a fire under him. And it is something Parmalee has heard -- and seen -- himself.

"Matter of fact, I remember one day he had told me that. And you know, it was like, okay, he's getting it, you know. Because he actually told me that. The same thing, that he really missed it, and he really didn't realize it until he was out of the game," Parmalee said. 

"But that's, and I told him, I said usually that's every player. You really don't appreciate it until you can't play it for a little bit. And then all of a sudden, you got a different perspective. So I guess he was chomping at the bit, he did a great job when he wasn't playing, you know, working on his body, working on the mental aspect of the game, you know, so he didn't take that year off. 

"So he did a little transformation with his body. And then he always stayed on top of the game. So getting back to it, you know, he's very excited about it. And I told him I said the sky's the limit with him because he got the right mind frame."

The sky certainly seems to be the limit for Etienne, whose ceiling is probably best described as undefined at this point. If this is his rookie year like Parmalee and other Jaguars say, then it is one of the best rookie years in NFL history. 

Etienne has the third-most rushing yards in the NFL since becoming a full-time starter in Week 6. Etienne is also averaging 5.9 yards per carry in his last five games, good for third among running backs in the 5.95 NFL during that span. Plus, his 27 first down rushes are the most among all running backs in the NFL since Week 6. 

"He's a bigger back than what people think he is, you know. I know coming out of Clemson he was a little smaller, but he really has got really good explosion and good feel, you know, he's a guy that can work in space," Parmalee said. "You know, he can run it and before you look up, he's passed you, so he's a home run hitter. That's why we drafted him coming out, because we needed someone that can do something when they get the ball in their hands. He was a legit 4.4 guy, got really good ball skills. 

"And even when you look at tape when he was in Clemson, you know, when he got the ball in his hand, he did he did something with it, and we can see now you know as he gets more carries and get into the feel of the game, he's very explosive. So you look up, he's got the ball, then you look up again, and he's about 20 yards down the field."

That is exactly the kind of player the Jaguars have seen in Etienne thus far. He has consistently been the sparkplug of the offense, providing chunk plays on the days where the Jaguars' offense needs them the most. 

But while it is the big-picture where Etienne has thrived, it is the little aspects of the position he has improved at the most since Week 1, Parmalee said.

"He's grown a lot in pass pro. You know, we work on it every day, you know, pretty much in practice, but taking a step in that direction, in that category is very crucial," he said. 

"And as you know, it's hard to play if you can't protect the quarterback, but he has taken big strides in that area. He has been tested, too, the last couple of weeks. So pretty much you can expect that because he's a rookie. So guys want to see, you know, what he can do in pass pro, so he's really been doing a really good job and he's going to continue to improve on that."

Etienne has flashed the ability to be among the best running backs in the entire NFL in his first 10 games. If he is even better in his next 10 games, then he might turn the conversation into a bonafide fact.

Etienne has the talent. He has the mindset. Now, he just has to make sure it all keeps coming together just as it has over the first 10 games.

"You know, it's like, he got this talent. And you're like, Okay, I know he can do A, B and C. Now we just got to hone in. We got to hone it in and a lot of times when you talk to him, he doesn't realize how talented he is," Parmalee said. "He knows that, you know, I can run away from people. I said, Listen, man, you really, you can take it a step further, you know. 

"So when you have those conversations, and then you teach him and go over the little things that help you get to that next level, no matter how much talent you have, you know, you see that smile on his face, because he's like, okay, he really wants that, you know. So it's just great just to have a guy that has those tools. And then at the same time, it is great to work with a guy that has got the right mindset, and he's young, and he's hungry.