Gardner Minshew II has been through five training camps—and is working now on his sixth—since he began chasing his dream of being a NFL starting quarterback.
He spent the 2015 fall camp at Northwest Mississippi Community College, before leading the JUCO school to a NJCAA National Championship. He transferred to East Carolina and battled through the 2016 and 2017 training camp for the starting role…a battle that continued through both seasons and he split time with other passers.
From there, the graduate transfer quarterback committed to Alabama in hopes of starting a coaching career while backing up Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. But then Mike Leach called and asked, “So do you want to come lead the country in passing?”
So Minshew went west and fought for a starting role at Washington State. He won the battle and he fulfilled Leach’s vision, leading the country in passing during the 2018 season (367.6 yards per game, 103.2 more than Tagovailoa).
As a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, the sixth-rounder spent training camp learning behind former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. He was an insurance passer and remained that way until the first five minutes of the season opener.
Minshew’s career has been peppered with scrappy, magical moments. The kind of ascension that every underrated kid coming out of high school dreams of accomplishing. Regardless of the storied path, this is the first time since 2014 Gardner Minshew can head into a training camp and know he’s “the guy.”
“I actually haven’t had a camp like this going into it since, I guess, my senior year of high school, so it’s awesome,” the second-year starter told reporters following practice on Wednesday.
“The guys are very excited to get on the field, whether it’s even just for practice right now. So, I’m glad to be here, super grateful for the opportunity and hoping to make the most of it.”
Over the offseason, Minshew says he purposely worked on certain aspects of his game in hopes of making that leap from Year One to Year Two, knowing he’ll be the first option at QB.
“Basically, every time I was throwing, I had somebody either knocking at the ball or just around me trying to work the subtleties, the subtle moving in the pocket and still being able to throw, whether it’s off-balance or regaining balance quickly. So that was a big emphasis this year and obviously ball security is something I’m taking very seriously.”
And now that continues into camp.
“I think the big thing so far is cleaning up a few things technique-wise with drill work with [Jaguars Quarterbacks] Coach [Ben] McAdoo, he’s bringing in a lot of experience, worked with a lot of really good guys. So, all of the quarterbacks were just eager to learn from him and then I think once getting into offense, it’s all about communication. You know, whether it’s at the line in the huddle, just making sure everybody knows their job and all the quarterbacks are doing a good job of getting everybody where they need to go.”
The Jags are carrying four passers through training camp: Minshew, Mike Glennon, Josh Dobbs and Jake Luton.
There’s something to be said for quarterback battles, and their ability to push a guy to fight. Knowing there’s someone there who can take your job can force a guy to dig deeper for another level.
But for those that have always been fighting and clawing, there’s a sense of confidence that can only come with being in charge. No longer having to constantly look over your shoulder—or try to peek over the one in front of you—can help a player settle more comfortably into their role and take charge of those around him.
That was evident in Minshew during Wednesday's practice, as he captained the offense, leading them through drills, delivering plays, even calling the cadence for his entire unit within drills.
It’s the hallmark sign of a matured quarterback and since two quarterbacks mean no quarterbacks, having that one guy for everyone to look too is necessary for a team to win.
Just look at the recent record. We know the Jaguars went 6-6 with Minshew as a starter his rookie season. But the way in which they game tell an even broader story.
When Minshew took over for Foles in Week 1 of the 2019 season, the Jaguars lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. But after going 22-of-25 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 40–26 loss — along with a pass completion percentage of 88%, the highest of any player making his debut in NFL history — the Jags knew they had a chance at whatever came next. And they did.
Over the next eight weeks, Minshew went 4-4 as a starter, the losses coming with an average point differential of 9.5 and the wins coming in with a differential of 10.3 points. His first official start was a one-point loss to the Houston Texans. That was followed by two wins, two losses, two more straight wins and a bad loss in London. If we can assume a bad loss isn’t unheard of under a rookie QB, then there did seem to be an upward trajectory to where that record was going.
The Jaguars famously went 0-4 after Foles was reinserted as the starter. But Jacksonville finished 2-1 over the final three games with Minshew back under center as QB1.
Suffice to say, a team that can look to one guy in unison will be a team that finds itself moving in the same direction.
"I think we set [goals] every day,” explains Minshew.
“You know, we want to get better, I think we went out there today, we got better. We got better at some blitz pickup, a few different things. And I think if we get better at one thing every day through camp, through the year, by the end of the year, we’ll like where we’re at.
“Just being with the guys and trying to figure out how we—what we want to be as a team because we get to define that right now. There’s a group of guys on this team, a group of leaders, that have a very real opportunity to change the culture here, to develop a winning culture and I think it’s already started.”