With training camps set to open throughout the league in a matter of just a few weeks, it is time to take a look at the most important part of each camp: The positional battles.
Every team will harp on competition this fall as they have both new additions and old faces fight for roles on the depth chart and in the starting lineups. This is no different for the Jaguars, who brought a sea of change to their roster this offseason with over a dozen free-agent additions and nine draft picks.
But which battles will be the most important to watch in Jacksonville later this month and into August? Which will help determine how far the Jaguars can go in year one of a new era? We have picked five to evaluate and will do so individually over the course of the pre-training camp period.
We started with the kicker competition between Josh Lambo and Aldrick Rosas. Now, we move onto one of the most important roles on any team: The backup quarterback.
The Jaguars' didn't exactly have a true backup last season. Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon and Jake Luton all took different turns as both the starters, No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks throughout the 2020 season. The situation today looks much different, however.
The Jaguars' 2020 arrangement predictably backfired as Jacksonville's offense failed to pick up any consistency through the air, finishing ranked No. 28 in EPA/play and No. 27 in offensive DVOA. After all, if you have three starting quarterbacks, you likely actually have zero.
But in 2021, the Jaguars' starting quarterback role will be clear no matter what ups and downs hit the team. Minshew was the unquestioned starter entering 2020 but he didn't have much of a long-term leash due to the fact the Jaguars' regime was on its last leg and Minshew was a sixth-round pick the Jaguars were hoping could hit.
This isn't the case with Trevor Lawrence. The No. 1 overall pick will take every single snap as the Jaguars' quarterback in 2021 as long as he is healthy, even if the Jaguars have yet to name him the starter. And even in a worst-case scenario where the Jaguars go on a 15-game losing streak like the year before, Lawrence will still be expected keep his hold on the job.
But what about Lawrence's backup throughout his rookie season? That is the question the Jaguars will have to answer during training camp, with the battle set to be held between Minshew and free agent addition C.J. Beathard. Luton is still on the roster but was the team's clear No. 4 quarterback during OTAs and minicamp, making this a two-man race for the No. 2 job.
"Our objective from day one was to build the best quarterback room that we could. We knew what we had in Gardner, C.J. was a guy that we really looked at on film and we saw him make a lot of plays and have some of the athleticism that we really like from our quarterbacks," Jaguars passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said during minicamp. "Jake Luton was a guy that was highly sought-after last year. I know we really liked him in Seattle when he came out and then of course, [when] you get a chance to add a Trevor Lawrence to the mix, you’re going to do that.
"But you know, we’re not in a position where we’re saying 1, 2, 3, 4. We’re letting them all roll, everybody is getting reps, we want this thing to be really competitive."
It is likely a bit too early to project a true favorite for the battle, though Minshew would be the smart bet. While Minshew struggled in 2020, he has been the more consistent performer than Beathard both throughout their regular-season playing careers and during this past offseason.
Minshew completed 66.1% of his passes for 2,259 yards, 16 touchdowns, and five interceptions last year, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. This came a year after Minshew dazzled as a rookie starter in 2019, going 6-6 as a starter while completing 60.6% of his passes for 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He went 1-6 as a starter in the first seven weeks of 2020 before a hand injury sidelined him and ultimately set the Jaguars onto their path toward Lawrence.
While Minshew more or less became an afterthought in terms of the starting job once Lawrence became attainable, the Jaguars have still been thrilled internally with what they have seen from him since the new regime and coaching staff has entered the picture.
"But again, he’s got an uncanny ability and instinctive understanding of how the game should be played," Schottenheimer said about Minshew in June.
"And he makes plays out there every day that you’re like, ‘Wow, how did he see that?’ You know, there was a play a couple weeks ago in practice where the defense was disguised in the coverage and he saw something that when I looked up, I didn’t even see it. So, I don’t know if he’ll ever go into coaching, but if he does, he’d be a [heck] of a coach.”
Beathard is a bit of a different story. He struggled throughout parts of OTA and minicamp, at least in comparison to Minshew. He decidedly looked like the team's third best quarterback, especially in terms of accuracy. But even with this in mind, the Jaguars' investment in Beathard suggests he will still have a crack at the No. 2 job.
The Jaguars signed Beathard to a two-year deal with $2.75 million guaranteed this year, and releasing him in 2021 compared to 2022 would cost nearly $2 million more in dead cap. His contract is larger than Minshew's and suggests he will be on the roster no matter the outcome of the position battle.
"C.J. has come in here, he’s had to catch up with some of the system stuff because some of the verbiage here stayed the same with Coach [George] Warhop staying," Schottenheimer said in June.
"And then, of course, Jake has just been a guy that [has had] probably the least amount of reps, but every time he’s been out there, he’s moved the team and he’s done things that we’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really great.’ So, I’m thrilled with where we are right now as a quarterback room and it’s still too early to say how this thing is going to play out.”
Who Lawrence's backup during his first NFL season will be is still up for debate. Minshew has the better track record and has clearly made an impression on the coaching staff, but Beathard was brought in this offseason for a reason.
The Jaguars' quarterback room changed dramatically this offseason and the dust has yet to settle. But over the course of training camp, the final question facing the position before Week 1 should finally reveal itself over the course of a few weeks of practice.