The Jacksonville Jaguars will begin shaping their team for the 2021 season, as the team opens training camp Tuesday. With a new head coach in Urban Meyer, and the hottest name on the quarterback circuit in years, Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars have the potential to turn the franchise in an entirely—well—new direction.
There are still plenty of questions surrounding this team though; position battles and roster cuts and scheme decisions that will shape the 2021 Jaguars just as much if not more than Lawrence. To prepare you for training camp, Jaguar Report's John Shipley and Kassidy Hill take a look at some of the biggest questions facing the Jags offense as camp begins, in Part 1 of our training camp roundtable.
Who Wins the Backup QB Battle?
Hill: It should be Gardner Minshew II. That's the easiest and most logical answer here. Put aside his golden quote on Chris Long's podcast about how he won't settle for No. 2 because barring an injury, the Jaguars are going to see what they have in Trevor Lawrence sooner rather than later. That makes Minshew one of the best backup's in the league; someone with ample starting experience and an incumbent captain.
However, Minshew might be too good to be true as a starter. The Jaguars don't want to ship off a valuable backup. But as teams get into camp and see what they have at QB, as inevitable injuries happen and holdouts don't show up to camp, there will most likely be someone sniffing around Minshew. If the Jaguars receive a viable trade offer, it'll have to be listened to, especially since as a former starter, Minshew will want to go somewhere he can be on the field.
If Minshew is gone, who does that leave? CJ Beathard and Jake Luton. Both have started in pinches. Neither inspires great confidence that they can run the offense in Lawerence's—or even Minshew's—place. Luton is the cheaper option, in his second year versus Beathard's fifth. Both started three games in 2020 though and during that time, the veteran Beathard took better care of the football, giving up three fumbles but tossing no interceptions. Luton threw six interceptions. The most important aspect of a backup QB is someone who can take care of the football. That's Beathard.
Shipley: I just won't believe that Minshew is the team's No. 3 quarterback until we actually see it unfold. The Jaguars' signing of C.J. Beathard seemed at the time to signal a potential move for Minshew would be made by another team, but there is zero reason to expect the Jaguars to be shopping Minshew as of right now.
Minshew was the clear top quarterback between himself, Beathard and Jake Luton during the offseason. And this isn't surprising since Minshew has been the best NFL quarterback among the three throughout each of their respective careers. While Beathard's contract and guaranteed money says one thing about his chances to be the backup, Minshew's play both in the offseason and over the last two years suggest he is the far better option.
Does Tebow Make the Team?
Hill: This is the million dollar question and the answer changes depending on who you talk to and what day of the week it is and what direction the wind is blowing from. In the end, only Urban Meyer knows...and I don't think even he knows as of yet. If we see a pillar of white smoke in the Eastern sky, I guess we can assume Tebow has made the roster. The first set of roster comes come on August 17, in the middle of the preseason games and as training camp winds down.
What will it take for Tebow to actually make those cuts though? Can he do anything in training camp to possibly sway the decision one way or another? In theory, yes. He wasn't bad during minicamp. All indications are he looked good enough to be considered a fourth string tight end in the NFL, which is better than most could hope fo that play the sport. Still, that won't make the 53-man.
Tebow has always been athletic. To (justifiably) make the team, he'll need to spend training camp showing he's more than just a natural athlete though. He'll need to exhibit an understanding of the route tree, blocking concepts and better hands than those around him. The Jaguars don't have much to offer in the way of tight ends, but the guys there have at least played the position. Tebow can spend the next three weeks though proving to coaches he's got a quick grasp of what they're asking him to do and an upward trajectory with a high ceiling.
Shipley: My guess as of now is no. The numbers just don't work out. If the roster could be allowed to have more than 53 players, like Meyer is used to from his college days, then my answer would probably change. But I just don't think there is much Tebow can realistically do to justify a limited and rare spot on a 53-man roster, especially in Meyer's first year as a coach.
Tebow was clearly the team's No. 3 'F' tight end in the offseason. They currently have six tight ends on the roster, and Tebow is at very best the No. 5 tight end heading into camp. More realistically, he is behind Tyler Davis and is No. 6. Perhaps Tebow is able to provide a sports miracle of sorts and take to tight end at an amazingly fast rate, but the odds are that the Jaguars just won't have room on the roster for a player who isn't one of the four best tight ends on the team.
Jones, Shenault, Chark ... Who Is WR1?
Hill: This is a trick question, because there's an argument for all three. They are also different enough to all be on the field at the same time, but the WR1 moniker indicates that's THE guy. The one coaches can go to in clutch situations when a play is needed. The guy who is going to win his battles the majority of the time and lead the team in receiving categories.
Right now, I think that guy is Marvin Jones Jr. He is older with experience and hasn't slowed up like most receivers do once they turn 30 years old. Jones had 978 yards (averaging 12.9 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns in 2020. He and Offensive Coordinator Darrel Bevell also have history from their time together at the Detroit Lions, making them a good team, so much so they chose to pair up again in Jacksonville.
Chark has been called out by the staff this offseason; a tactic they're hoping pushes him to play to his potential instead of playing to his competition. According to Chark, the Pro-Bowler, it's worked and he appreciates the tough love. But coaches could still want to see consistent production before entrusting him with the role he's held the entire time he's been with the Jaguars.
Shenault can play outside, but his versatile skill set means coaches will keep him inside too much to really let him become that WR1 guy.
Shipley: I truly don't think any of the trio will separate themselves from the other two to distinguish themselves as the offense's true No. 1. Instead, I think the Jaguars are going to have essentially three focal points of the passing game who all serve different roles. None of the Jaguars' starting three receivers are the same or truly have similar skill sets, giving the Jaguars flexibility moving forward.
Chark is the team's most natural 'X' receiver and is the team's best deep threat. He has legit 4.3 speed, can climb the ladder and win the battle for the ball in the air and has proven he can be a dangerous vertical threat time and time again, even in down years like 2020.
Jones has vast experience as the 'Z' receiver in Darrell Bevell's offense. He excels in the short and intermediate game and is excellent at winning contested catches downfield. With his veteran saviness and top-tier ball skills, he will likely be Lawrence's safety valve as a rookie.
Then there is Shenault. Shenault's skill set is among the rarest in the NFL, as he has the short-area quickness, change of direction and balance of a much smaller player. He combines all of this with his size and strength to win at every level of the field as a pass-catcher. He will likely be the team's starting slot receiver, but he could really play any role at the end of the day.
Can James Robinson and Travis Etienne Coexist?
Shipley: They are going to have to, and that will be up to the Jaguars' coaching staff to ensure it happens. There is no reason to think their skill sets can't play off of one another, especially considering how vastly different they are in terms of both play style and athleticism. Robinson is a punishing and explosive downhill runner with good vision, hands, and the ability to hold up in pass protection. Meanwhile, Etienne is a more dynamic runner and home-run threat, offering more big-play ability and giving the Jaguars a spark plug to let work in space.
There is little to suggest these two players can't work off each other to help the Jaguars' offense. Robinson is a proven back who can carry the load, but there were several instances last year of him taking a run a long way, but not all the way. Etienne was brought in to turn more of those runs into scores, not to necessarily replace Robinson.
The Jaguars' coaching staff has to find a way to get both involved in the offense because the reality is Etienne and Robinson are two of the team's best playmakers. If there is any failure for them to coexist on the same unit, that would be purely the fault of the offensive staff.
Hill: I honestly haven't gotten behind the thinking that with Robinson and Etienne it has to be one or the other. They play the same position. That's where the similarities stop. Sometimes, that's enough to dictate one stays and one goes. But running backs can work out of a stable and having extra backs is never a bad thing. Robinson carried the load solo for the Jags last season, but Etienne coming in doesn't necessarily mean Robinson is out; it just means Robinson will get some help with snaps.
Robinson is more of a north and south, power runner. Etienne can get sideline to sideline and even flex out if needed, something he worked on in rookie minicamp. Meyer is always looking for that scat back factor in his offense, which he has in Etienne, and to some extent, Laviska Shenault. But Robinson proved as a rookie that what he does can bring immense value to an offense. Given Meyer is attempting to turn just that around for the Jags, there's no reason to ignore what James Robinson brings to the table.
It's an embarrassment of riches with both Robinson and Etienne, but the Jaguars would be foolish to think they can only use one or the other. They bring two different aspects to the offense and both work.