The biggest offseason in Jacksonville Jaguars history continues on, with the club set to host a three-day mandatory veteran minicamp this week. Several teams around the league have elected to cancel minicamp, but given the relative youth of the roster and Head Coach Urban Meyer’s first offseason in the NFL, the Jags are taking advantage of the extra time on the field.
With a new head coach, a No. 1 overall pick and a revamped defense, there are plenty of storylines to follow as the Jaguars race towards the 2021 season. Jaguar Report’s John Shipley and Kassidy Hill each offer the three biggest things they’ll be watching for when the Jags begin mini-camp this Tuesday.
Which one player should have the spotlight on them the most during minicamp?
Shipley: It is always going to be Trevor Lawrence, especially in 2021. He is the first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history and is arguably already the biggest national star the Jaguars have had on their roster in team history, which is saying something considering he has yet to even take a regular-season snap. How he continues to progress in terms of his comfort with the offensive scheme and with his playmakers is the top storyline of the week.
With that said, I think Laviska Shenault and Tyson Campbell will have a lot of eyes on them as well. Shenault was the star of Phase 3 of the offseason program, putting on a show time after time in practice. If he can do so once again but this time in a more intense practice, it will be telling. As for Campbell, he hasn’t done much outside of individual work during the offseason workout period due to a hamstring injury, but he is expected to see the field more and more this week according to head coach Urban Meyer. The No. 33 overall pick in April, Campbell is the favorite to start at nickel cornerback for the Jaguars in Week 1.
Hill: Without a doubt (at least in my mind) it’s going to be Trevor Lawrence. And that’s not just because the spotlight follows him wherever he goes regardless. During OTA’s, Lawrence exhibited the talent that has made him a generational prospect, but he also hit some of the standard rookie road bumps. Redzone drills in particular were not some of Lawrence’s high points, at least in what was visible by media. These are all fixable things and expected learning curves. But Lawrence can inspire a lot of confidence during minicamp if he shows progress in those areas, proving he’s not only natural talent, but a quarterback capable of recognizing and correcting his mistakes.
Due to how heavily OTAs have been attended, would anything but 100% attendance this week be a shock?
Shipley: I think so, mostly because the Jaguars don’t exactly have a situation in which players are staying away from practice. If this was 2020, then Yannick Ngakoue would have been an obvious candidate, but this is a new team, regime and trajectory for the franchise. There are no players who are holding out for new deals, with the current contract-year Jaguars all more or less focusing on 2021. The Jaguars had near-perfect attendance during OTAs outside of a few brief absences here and there.
Hill: Given how hyped players seemed to be during OTA’s, I’d fully expect that to continue this week. This is a brand new staff and a young roster. They need to take advantage of any time they can legally have together on the practice field. Every player we’ve talked to thus far has gushed about the excitement the coaching staff has injected into practices, and how much they want to be around their teammates during this time. We’ve even seen entire position groups working out together away from the facility.
There may be a couple of guys not there, for veteran days off or injuries or what-not. But I’d expect near-perfect attendance for the most part.
Which position group has the most to prove in the final practices ahead of training camp?
Shipley: The tight end position flashed throughout OTAs, but doing so during veteran minicamp would mean much, much more considering the tempo and intensity of practice will be increased. No other position group on the roster saw as much criticism thrown its way as the tight end group, with many of the critiques coming directly from Meyer.
The Jaguars have a few clear locks to make the roster at the position in Chris Manhertz and James O’Shaughnessy, each of whom has never produced like a starting tight end but impressed during OTAs. Fifth-round rookie Luke Farrell is likely a lock to make it as well, but it remains to be seen just how much run he will get as a rookie. If he can impress in his first minicamp, perhaps he could see more and more opportunities down the line. Then Ben Ellefson, Tyler Davis and Tim Tebow all have to make positive impressions during the week as they enter a battle for some of the team’s final spots in the tight end room for the regular season. Tebow is the big name, but Ellefson should be the favorite as of today.
Hill: The corner unit received one of the biggest offseason updates—which looks genius now, what with the Tennessee Titans offseason moves. From free agency to the draft, the club poured resources into the group. There are legitimately four players who can argue for a starting role in the unit (CJ Henderson, Shaq Griffin, Tyson Campbell and Sidney Jones IV), so this week will be a great time for each of those guys to make a statement ahead of training camp and rosters being finalized.
Do you think the QB2 battle can be won or lost during minicamp, or will all deciding factors come during training camp?
Shipley: I think the Jaguars will keep an open mind during training camp and not be afraid to push Gardner Minshew and C.J. Beathard each for the job, but I just find it too hard to believe that the Jaguars will enter camp with Beathard ahead of Minshew in the pecking order. Maybe that is what the Jaguars had in mind when they signed Bethard, but it just can’t be justified as of today. Maybe it wasn’t the Jaguars’ plan considering the Jaguars could spend some money at quarterback with Minshew’s cheap deal, but any signs of Bethard ahead of Minshew on the depth chart at lost back in March and don’t look to be coming back anytime soon. It just hasn’t been very close on the field.
Ultimately Bethard could still win the job if Minshew falters during training camp, but that seems unlikely. Minicamp will likely be another piece of evidence for Minshew as the team’s second-best quarterback, and will likely play a big role in Minshew having the edge before training camp even starts.
Hill: I think all deciding factors will come during training camp…but there’s still plenty to watch for here this week. Let’s make one thing abundantly clear; there is no quarterback battle or competition or any other word one wants to apply to imply drama that isn’t present. Trevor Lawrence should be and will be the starting quarterback for the Jaguars. Gardner Minshew still is capable and has a shot to be a starter somewhere and wouldn’t be untoward in requesting a trade.
But we saw through OTA’s, Minshew still receive a good bulk of the reps. Some of that had to do with Lawrence tweaking things and coaches wanting to be extra careful with their potential franchise QB. That also means though Minshew received time to gel with new and old receivers, while also showing coaches a little of his magic.
If Lawrence looks to need time to develop and adjust to the speed of the NFL, could Meyer trot Minshew out more often? Not necessarily as a starter and not even as a backup coming in to replace the starter…but more like a reliever. Call it a 1A and 1B situation. It’s unlikely and something that works in the college game more than the NFL. But if Minshew continues to receive an equitable amount of reps in minicamp, it would seem to indicate coaches have some plan for him beyond being a really good insurance policy.
We’ve seen Travis Etienne work out at wide receiver and running back. Should Urban Meyer continue to experiment with him this week, or define his role?
Shipley: Continue to experiment with him. Etienne has done plenty of running back things over the last month during open OTA practices and he was never going to only play one of either running back or wide receiver. If the Jaguars are going to ask Etienne to wear multiple hats and impact the offense in more ways than one, they will need to see just how much he can handle leading up to training camp. The best thing for the Jaguars and Etienne is to continue to let him get reps as a pass-catcher while also letting him get familiar with the team’s running scheme. The best way to do both is to simply allow him to put a lot on his plate during practice and seeing how he responds.
Hill: When Meyer worked out Travis Etienne as a wide receiver during rookie minicamp, it spurned questions and an outcry for days. Then the first-round pick converted back to running back during OTA’s, joining last year’s phenom, James Robinson. But Meyer has also said of Etienne, “the reason we drafted him is the opportunity to be a dual-threat guy.”
With that in mind, it would be interesting to see Meyer continue to work out Etienne at different positions, moving him around the offense like a chess piece. The Jaguars have a solid RB1 in Robinson. They have three incredibly solid receivers (DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones) who can play outside, as well as the slot. Let Etienne be the gadget guy, the type that Urban Meyer has always had in his offense. Use this week to experiment with him. It may make fans worried, but it’ll also puzzle opponents.
There are no wins, losses, or even shoulder pads, but minicamp is still vital. What is the No. 1 goal the Jaguars should try to accomplish this week?
Shipley: The Jaguars need to make it known what the expectations and standards are for this regime from a practice standpoint. Voluntary OTAs are just that; Voluntary. They are valuable in terms of reps and practicing execution and going from the classroom to the field, but those practices also aren’t what the Jaguars are going to be doing on a frequent basis to push their team. Meyer has already shown how different the Jaguars operate on the practice field compared to the last regime, so taking it to another notch during mandatory veteran minicamp and showing the roster what is expected of them ahead of Week 1 would be an impressive accomplishment.
Hill: This is going to sound incredibly cliche and I permit you to roll your eyes when reading it…but the Jaguars need to find their identity this week. Is this team going to play fast or methodical? Rely on gadget plays or beat you with pure power? With a new coaching staff and fairly new roster, this is a great opportunity to decide who the Jaguars will be in the coming years. Training camp will be the time to polish and put into place the details for the playbook this fall. So minicamp is one of the last opportunities this offseason to play around with options and really decide who the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be under this new regime.