In 103 days, the Jacksonville Jaguars will officially start the Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer era as they take on the Houston Texans and look to snap the 15-game losing streak that brought both to Jacksonville to begin with.
But until then, the Jaguars and their entire roster know they have to push themselves to the brink to prepare for their Week 1 clash. With the Jaguars now officially entering June and the thick of the offseason training programs, we opt to take a look at a few players who are ascending as the Jaguars march closer and closer to training camp. Based off the offseason, recent voluntary practices and more, we look at which Jaguars' stocks are officially on the rise entering June,
Chris Manhertz, James O'Shaughnessy, and Ben Ellefson
There has been no position on the Jaguars' roster that has been criticized this offseason as much as the tight end room has been. And the critiques have been fair and just, which explains why many of the critiques and desires for improvement have come from the Jaguars directly.
With that said, the Jaguars and head coach Urban Meyer seem to be encouraged by the improvement they have seen from the position during the early portions of the offseason. There quite a bit of time left before we see if these summer improvements provide tangible results on the field, but Chris Manhertz, James O'Shaughnessy, and Ben Ellefson are all players who have earned high marks publically from Urban Meyer.
Manhertz made several impressive catches in last week's organized team activity practice that was open for media viewing, while the veteran blocker also looked a bit quicker than one may have expected. Meanwhile, O'Shaughnessy didn't drop any passes and looked entrenched as the team's top pass-catching tight end. Ellefson could back O'Shaughnessy up and make the team as a third tight end after getting snaps over Tyler Davis a year ago as well.
"Tyler Bowen is doing a good job with our tight ends as a whole. [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," Meyer said last Thursday. "Their positions are trending upward, they’re doing a nice job.”
Entering a contract year, no Jaguars' offensive player has more to gain from a strong season in 2021 than DJ Chark. Chark has had flashes of brilliance throughout his three years with the Jaguars, earning a Pro Bowl nod after a 1,000-yard season in 2019, but the Jaguars' lack of consistent play from the quarterback position has limited his production. That is now no longer the case with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, however, shifting the onus to Chark to meet his potential.
So far, so good on that front, with Chark being one of the Jaguars' leading faces and voices in the early stages of the Urban Meyer regime. Chark has been commended for his preparation this offseason and his buy-in to the team's sports performance model, while he has also looked electric on the practice field. Chark made several tough grabs last Thursday -- just as he did in last year's training camp when he was torching every cornerback on the roster. Chark has done all of the right things to this point.
When a team pays a player big money like the Jaguars paid cornerback Shaquill Griffin this offseason, the hope and expectation are an instant impact that can be recognized right away. The Jaguars committed to Griffin in a big way in March by signing the free agent cornerback to a three-year, $40 million contract, but so far Griffin has hit all the right buttons on and off the field.
During last week's open practice, Griffin simply looked like a different caliber of cover man compared to the rest of the defenders on the field. He moved with intensity and confidence that is tough to replicate. And it is that same intensity and confidence that has helped Griffin already become one of the team's most vocal leaders during the early days of the Meyer era. Griffin has been a leader off the field and has put his money where his mouth is on the field thus far as well, which is exactly what the Jaguars were hoping to get.
It was hard to be overly optimistic about Gardner Minshew's place in the Jaguars' plans moving forward earlier this offseason. Not only were the Jaguars always guaranteed to spend the No. 1 overall pick on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but the team also signed C.J. Beathard to a two-year, $5 million contract with $2.75 million guaranteed earlier this offseason. With this in mind, things have looked more and more positive for Minshew in recent weeks.
For one, the chances of Minshew being flipped for a draft pick have seemingly evaporated. Perhaps a team needs an extra arm in training camp and pushes to acquire Minshew closer to Week 1, but as of now there are no more logical destinations for Minshew to be traded to. Most teams have filled their backup role or brought in competition for their incumbent starters. Plus, Minshew looked like a different quarterback than Beathard for all the right reasons during last week's practice. He was more accurate, more in command of the offense, and simply looked like the team's best backup. That is just one practice and things could always change, but the Jaguars at least have a lot to think about when it comes to the team's backup quarterback role.
After ending his rookie season on a high note by racking up pressures and quarterback hits over the final several games of the year, K'Lavon Chaisson got another boost to his future when the Jaguars hired Joe Cullen as defensive coordinator. Cullen will deploy a defensive scheme similar to the multiple and aggressive front the Baltimore Ravens run, which is tailor-made for a player like Chaisson. The scheme thrives at helping players generate pressures thanks to twists, stunts, and pre-snap movement, which meshes together perfectly with Chaisson's skill set. And so far, it appears Chaisson and his fluid athleticism fit like a glove in Cullen's defense.
Chaisson is noticeably bigger this summer than he was during his rookie season, so far looking as if he is one of the team's best examples of the early returns on the sports performance program. Chaisson needed to add strength following his rookie season and it certainly appears he has done so. Add that into his scheme fit and the fact that the Jaguars don't have many players who can take snaps over Chaisson, and his stock is on the rise.