When the Jacksonville Jaguars cut down to their final roster and set the safety unit, there was a curious hierarchy of those left. The team had released longtime veteran Jarrod Wilson, kept Rudy Ford and labeled Andrew Wingard as a starter over Andre Cisco.
Of all the moves, it was the latter that head Coach Urban Meyer and staff have been questioned about the most, as Wingard got the initial nod over the 2021 third round draft pick, Cisco.
The reasons made sense enough; Cisco is still technically recovering from an ACL injury that derailed his final season with the Syracuse Orange. While he is full-go, he couldn’t practice to his full extent during the offseason, so his trajectory to game ready has still been a process.
“You know, [Cisco’s] a guy that we were told when we drafted him—we really thought highly of him, we still do—is that he had that ACL, so he’s still—was a little bit on that pitch count during training camp,” Meyer explained on Monday.
In the meantime, they built the unit around and ahead of him with an emphasis on special teams impact.
“What went in is obviously special teams value,” explained Meyer after the third preseason game, when the roster was cut down to 53. “Rayshawn Jenkins is playing a very high level. DT [Daniel Thomas] was out for a while with COVID and then comes in and forces two fair catches and looks fast as lightning on the field and has some pretty good film. Jarrod was a tough one, Jarrod Wilson, but I don’t think that one’s done. We’re still having conversations how to make that work.
“Then [Andrew] Wingard had an excellent game on Sunday. Who else do we have back there? [Andre] Cisco we feel really good about his future. Rudy [Ford], my gosh. We took him because our emphasis on special teams, [but] he can play back there. He started at dime and was a very good blitzer and all over the field. We feel that’s gone from a major concern in January to we’re going to be alright.”
While the Jaguars felt “alright” with the unit overall, and good about Cisco’s future, it still begged the question, how far away was the man they drafted to be a starter, from actually being a starter?
“Not far at all, I mean, he will be playing as well,” predicted defensive coordinator Joe Cullen last week ahead of the season opener versus the Houston Texans. “Anybody up is a starter, so if you get anybody—the depth chart says this, says that—if they’re up with a helmet, they are starting because they’ve got to go in the game at really any given time in certain positions, that’s one of them. Cisco can be in there second series, third series.”
Wingard did officially get the start, and played a majority of the game; 55 of the 78 defensive snaps, 71% total. He made five tackles, and only allowed one reception in four targets. But he also missed two key tackles and the one reception he did allow was for 29 yards, including 13 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
By the end of the game, Cisco was in his spot, opposite starter Rayshawn Jenkins. He finished having played 23 snaps (29% of the defensive plays). During that time, he had one tackle, missed one tackle and was not targeted.
Meyer, who puts a huge emphasis on special teams, has understandably been high on Wingard. But following Sunday’s 37-21 loss to the Texans, the head coach began hedging his bets and preparing for a defense that features more and more of the ballhawk Cisco.
“Cisco is really coming on,” Meyer told local media on Monday. “[Andrew] Wingard was the most consistent throughout, missed a tackle, had a chance to make a couple plays. We’re still, we’re not throwing anybody under the bus yet, but Cisco is a guy that we believe has a great future and he played pretty well when he was in there.”
The Jaguars face the Denver Broncos next week, then the Arizona Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals. All teams with whom Cisco could afford to get his reps, make some mistakes and not get completely burned. Meyer continues to say Cisco’s future is bright. Now the Jaguars have to decide if the future is now.