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Jaguars OTA No. 3 Notebook: Defense Shines as Intensity Increases

Jacksonville's defense won the day during red zone drills, while a few veteran players stood out for their communication and fluidity -- all this and more from Thursday's OTA practice.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot of work to do before they kick off the 2021 season in Houston in September. The road to that all-important game will be built on days like Thursday, which saw the Jaguars' entire roster come together for the team's third organized team activity.

While the Jaguars' practice didn't feature any pads, we still saw quite a bit of glimpses from the team as they continue to take shape in the first year of a new regime. Which glimpses stood out the most, though? We break it down here.

Defense outshines offense 

Jacksonville's defense won the day during the Jaguars' Thursday practice, at least in terms of drills on air. Take this with a grain of salt since the players are in shorts and helmets and we won't truly be able to see who belongs until pads come on, but we did get to see the Jaguars' secondary and linebackers fly to the football and show off new techniques in terms of how to play coverage. As a whole, the defense made more plays on Thursday, with safety Josh Jones specifically coming up with a few big pass breakups on the day. There were big plays made on offense as well, but I give the edge to a frenzied defense for their efforts on Thursday.

Trevor Lawrence's "okay" day 

Among the offensive players whose number the defense had at times on Thursday was rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, though some context is needed. Lawrence was clearly the Jaguars' best quarterback in terms of arm talent throughout the entire practice, but he struggled to get into a rhythm in the red zone. 

In fairness to him, he was mostly throwing to players who he won't be lining up with during the regular season, and the red zone is already an area that is tough to master due to how quickly everything unfolds. Ultimately Lawrence did lots of things to show why he was the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday, even if he didn't dominate the entire practice like some would envision. Plus, if media was allowed to see Wednesday's practice as opposed to viewing Thursday, the narrative is likely quite different. It is important to note that oftentimes the narrative from these practices is limited in this way. 

“Well, a big reason is red zone emphasis and that’s obviously a very hard area of the field. The field changes, especially against NFL talent all over the field and defense had the upper hand today. It wasn’t just him," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said following practice. 

"So, it’s just [a] new area of the field, which is why you spend so much time down there practicing. It’s a completely different game. [He was] very accurate yesterday, today he’s just—we all struggled, not just him, offensively.”

Tim Tebow update

Tight end Tim Tebow is one of the biggest storylines surrounding the Jaguars during organized team activities. The 33-year-old former quarterback has just a week of playing tight end under his belt after spending his first foray into the NFL as a quarterback. As a result, Thursday was the first time the media at large has been able to see Tebow as a full-time tight end. 

So, how did Tebow look? He didn't have any issues in terms of ball skills, which is a good starting point. He caught everything thrown his way in team and individual drills throughout the day. With that said, it is clear when watching him run routes that he is the least experienced of the team's tight ends -- the fluidity just doesn't show yet. As a whole Tebow didn't have any lowlights but he didn't stand out, either.

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"But it’s 1 of 90, trying to make the team. He has improved, it’s all new for him, but Tyler Bowen is doing a good job with our tight ends as a whole," Meyer said about Tebow. 

"[James] O’Shaughnessy and [Ben] Ellefson in particular, are—if you watch a video [from] last year and if you watch them practice now, it’s night.and day; those guys have really improved. Their positions are trending upward, they’re doing a nice job.”

Impressive veterans 

Again, all impressions from these practices can be taken with a grain of salt considering the lack of contact. With that said, there were still a few veterans who had some impressive moments during the team's workouts. 

  • Chris Manhertz is the Jaguars' No. 1 tight end on the depth chart and he certainly looked like it on Thursday. He was fluid in his routes and honestly quicker than expected, and he came down with a fantastic high-point catch in the back of the end zone. 
  • Shaquill Griffin looks like a natural mover at cornerback. He stuck to receivers throughout the entire practice and just explodes out of his breaks and contest routes differently than the other cornerbacks on the roster. 
  • Gardner Minshew II showed off the timing, chemistry, and confidence that has helped him outplay his sixth-round draft slot. He was the team's most effective passer down the stretch of the practice and it certainly appeared as if he has matured as a rhythmic passer. 
  • Credit to James Robinson. He said at the start of the offseason that he wanted to work on his speed and quickness, and it showed up at different points throughout the practice as a route-runner. 

Urban Meyer's presence helps take intensity to dramatic highs

Urban Meyer didn't do most of the yelling at the Jaguars' Thursday practice, instead letting his staff and roster dictate the tempo of the day. Still, the head coach was never far away from the action or hard to spot. He watched the Jaguars' practice with a focus and intensity that was hard to miss even from dozens of yards away, standing right in the muck of things as the Jaguars' offense attempted to continue to take shape. And compared to past Jaguars' practices the media has seen in recent years, today's work can't really be compared. Meyer has brought a much livelier, energetic, and intense environment to the Jaguars' practice field, all while doing it without running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Thursday marks perfect attendance 

It is surprising to see any NFL team get all 90 of its players into an organized team activity, let alone a team with a rookie head coach who is still attempting to make those connections with his roster. Still, the Jaguars had exactly that on Thursday, showing off perfect attendance for the third day of OTAs. It is a strong sign for Meyer and his staff that they are able to get the entire team on the field for what are merely voluntary practices, a sign Meyer didn't shy away from recognizing. 

“Well, first of all, I respect the PA [NFL Players Association] and we try to do the very best we can by them. For example, we had a chance to go four OTAs this week, we did three. We’re trying to do right by the players," Meyer said. 

"I have a group of players that we visit with constantly. But to answer your question, if we didn’t have this as a new staff, I can’t imagine even—you’d have to just push forward and start in August on the field. So, I’m grateful they're here. I believe we’re [at] 100 percent and they’re hungry, they want to learn the offenses and they trust the coaching staff and sports [performance] staff that we’re doing right by them.”

Travis Etienne takes handoffs... really! 

Remember all that overreaction about Travis Etienne playing wide receiver during rookie minicamp? Shockingly, it has turned out to be only that -- an overreaction, one that was always curious considering the Jaguars' had only 18 players, two offensive linemen, and one quarterback who couldn't hand off during minicamp. On Thursday, Etienne went through running back drills with the rest of the team's running back room and looked explosive and agile throughout the day. He even took quite a few handoffs out of the backfield, if one could believe that.