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Jaguars longest-tenured player Abry Jones has full confidence in team, Garnder Minshew

Demetrius Harvey

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Dec 16, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones (95) works out prior to the game at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars have overcome a lot of adversity this season. From losing their starting quarterback, to dealing with a disgruntled cornerback, the team has been able to flip the switch and just play football.

With only four weeks into the season, the Jaguars have dealt with several speedbumps. Thus far, they have dealt with the adversity in stride. Their rookie starting quarterback Gardner Minshew has all but silenced fans reeling from the loss of former Superbowl MVP Nick Foles. Their two-game win streak has somewhat overshadowed the trade request by their most prized player on defense in cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

A lot of the credit not only goes to Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone but also to the Jaguars players who have played unselfishly and as a complete team over the course of the season. The Jaguars are currently 2-2, and if not for an inch during their matchup against the Houston Texans in week two, they would be 3-1 entering Sunday’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers.

The Jaguars longest-tenured player, defensive tackle Abry Jones, has been through it all. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 he has dealt with losing seasons, coaching changes, and unprecedented roster turnover.

The turnover has essentially been ongoing. Since 2015, the only players still on the team are, Jones, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann,  center/guard Tyler Shatley, and wide receiver Marqise Lee. With only five players from 2015 left on the roster, this team is essentially brand new.

Jones knows this team is different from teams he has played with since joining the Jaguars in 2013. “It’s how close everyone is pretty much,” Jones told Locked On Jaguars on Friday shortly after practice when asked what makes this team different or special than the others he has played with in the past. “A real family approach inside the locker room, everyone is real close-knit.”

Having family values was especially noticeable during training camp, Jones says. Training camp is one of the most competition-fueled environments in the NFL. Players are fighting for a roster spot or starting positions, and at times it can get heated.

While there may be teams who try to one-up each other to make the roster or tear people down in order to feel better about themselves, the Jaguars helped each other instead. “No one was trying to shun people out to win a spot, everyone would still pass information trying to make sure the next man always got better.”

There are especially times when the locker room could have completely derailed this season — even while it’s still very much in its infancy. Although distractions and a quarterback change could have got the better of some teams, Jones feels that simply doesn’t describe this team or its players.

“No one needed to be reigned in,” Jones said when asked if there was anyone who reigned in the players during the course of the season. “It’s football, we know [there are] things [that] happen every year but at the end of the day, no matter what happens, there’re people in here that love the game and want to play football, we [are] gonna come out here and do it to the best of our ability.”

With games to play yet, there was no need to let situations dictate or derail the team. Just working on the next objective which was to get better, and to play football.

The Jaguars have risen to the occasion, and for the past several weeks have been led by a rookie quarterback in Minshew. Jones has been impressed by the rookie quarterback’s work ethic and his ability to come in and play as well as he has over the course of the season. Minshew recently won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month award and has won three out of four Rookie of the Week awards to begin the season.

“Of course when you first looked at him, it was, you know, he’s not Nick [Foles], but as our teammate, we have confidence in him,” Jones said when asked what he’s thought about the rookie quarterback.

“The way he’s playing now just really helps to show that. I know that me — and I’m pretty sure everybody else — didn’t really distrust him from the beginning and he’s really shown what we believed he can do.”

Now, the Jaguars will face another obstacle this week against the Carolina Panthers. The team has a chance to get to 3-2 and retain possession of a share of first place in the AFC South.

The Panthers have their own cult hero in running back Christian McCaffrey. The superstar has been at the center of the team’s discussion this week with the Jacksonville media, and for good reason.

Jones knows how much of a versatile player McCaffrey is as a running back and a receiver. A true force to be reckoned with in the trenches. “He’s pretty much the heart and soul of that team, offense right now,” Jones said. While the Panthers have a tremendous leader on defense with Luke Kuechly, the team’s offense and direction in general runs through their running back. He’s their engine.

“He’s just so diverse — it’s going to take all 11 players on the field. It’s not one thing — we can’t just close him out and hope to get a win. He really sets up the rest of his teammates with his play.”

Bringing down McCaffrey will be no easy task. The former Stanford running back has over 250 yards rushing after contact, and while he was toted as a scatback coming out of college, he is much more than that. McCaffrey currently leads the NFL in rushing yards with 411 and is has the third-highest receiving yards for a running back in the NFL with 218.

“He’s really transitioned his game to show that he’s an all three-downs back,” Jones said about McCaffrey. “He’s always churning his feet. He’s not a guy [that] just because you think he’s small stature [so] you can put a shoulder and he’s gonna fall — he’s built way different than that.”

McCaffrey has incredible balance, and it will take all of the team’s strength to bring him down on Sunday.

The Jaguars will have to remain a complete team for the rest of the season, and their first task will be taking down McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers this Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

Demetrius Harvey is the lead editor for the Locked on Jaguars website covering breaking news, breakdowns, and more. You can follow him at @Demetrius82 on twitter.

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Interview

Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue knows the defense has room to grow

Demetrius Harvey

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Oct 6, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) reacts after a tackle against the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars have been known as a defensive powerhouse for the past several years, however recently the tides have turned. One constant that’s remained is defensive end Yannick Ngakoue who is still turning the corner. 

When the Jaguars’ offseason began, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue staged a holdout in hopes of becoming one of the highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL. His hold out only lasted a week or so, but it was a stance he was willing to take entering the final year of his contract.

Ngakoue easily could have held out — thus hurting the team defensively — for the betterment of himself, but he decided to come back anyway. His coaches have admired his dedication to his craft for years, and it shows by the production he has put on the field since he was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

“As soon as the game was over, I texted him right away. Because he comes to work every day. He’s passionate about what he does. He’s very good at what he does, so it’s good to see him have some individual success last Sunday with two sacks,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said on Thursday when asked about Ngakoue’s recent success. “But knowing Yannick [Ngakoue], the first thing he texts back is, ‘I feel like hell because we lost.’ And that’s the type of person that Yannick is. He’s more team than [an] individual, and that’s why we love him.”

The Jaguars defense struggled in their 27-34 loss against the Caroline Panthers, and Ngakoue feels rather than this week being about staying in their gaps as a defensive line, it is moreso just working on technique.

Now, entering week six Ngakoue registered his first sacks of the season last Sunday after getting to Panthers’ quarterback Kyle Allen twice over the course of the game. Early-season struggles due to a nagging hamstring injury have limited some of Ngakoue’s production during his contract season. However, the young defensive end isn’t worried about himself, he’s worried about the team.

In some contract-dispute situations players can have the tendency to press or feel down because they aren’t producing well enough to earn a contract they may feel is acceptable to them. Ngakoue has always held himself to a different standard, putting God and the team first before anything.

“All glory to God, God put me in position and I executed,” Ngakoue told Locked On Jaguars on Thursday when asked how it felt to finally get a sack this season. “So like I say all glory to God, all glory to heaven. Also, major respect to my teammates because they did their job in those specific plays to help me get back there.”

Unpromoted, and unsolicited, Ngakoue credits his teammates with every success he has individually instead of implying he wanted more or had to step his own game up for himself. There is zero selfishness within him.

Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

In week six, the Jaguars need to get back to being who they are, but at this point, the 2017 team has to be forgotten, and Ngakoue agrees. “We did a lot of great things in 2017,” Ngakoue told Locked On Jaguars on Thursday. “But we can’t keep looking back at that because ultimately everybody always mentions it because that was the standard that we set, and we’re just trying to pass that standard.”

The Jaguars defense has taken a backseat to their offense this season. In years past, the Jaguars offense would essentially have been carried through the season because of the performance on defense. Now the tables have turned, however, Ngakoue still has a strong belief in this team and its defense.

“It’s still a long season you know we still got — its the second quarter of the season, there’s still a lot we can do. ”

Earlier this week, Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell spoke about the offense. He said, for the first time since he has been with the team, the offense can be relied upon to score points, and the confidence on that side of the ball has skyrocketed.

Ngakoue agrees and mentions quarterback Garnder Minshew, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., and running back Leonard Fournette as the key pieces which form the offense and its success thus far this season.

“Absolutely, we got an offense that compliments each other,” Ngakoue said when asked about the success of the offense and how different it is from years past. “We used to be a defensive-minded team —  in the outside world, we were known for defense. But at the end of the day, we got a great offense too.”

The Jaguars currently rank sixth in total offense according to NFL.com. Much of that is due to the play of Minshew who has thrown for 1,279 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception thus far this season.

If the Jaguars continue their success on offense and build a defense even closely resembling that of 2017, the team will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Their next task will be stopping the unstoppable in New Orleans Saints’ running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas.

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Jaguars tight end Ben Koyack on his return: “like riding a bicycle”

Demetrius Harvey

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Jan 7, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Ben Koyack (83) catches a touchdown pass against Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Ramon Humber (50) during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars lost tight end James O’Shaughnessy for the season due to a torn ACL on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. In return, they brought back a familiar face — tight end Ben Koyack. 

When the Jaguars lost James O’Shaughnessy for the season many speculated the team may look for outside help instead of promoting rookie tight end Charles Jones to the active roster. Jones has been on the team’s practice squad since the start of the season.

Instead of promoting Jones, the Jaguars opted to bring back a familiar face in former Jaguars’ seventh-round pick Ben Koyack. Koyack says being back is just like riding a bicycle, “just taking a day to get right back into it,” Koyack told Locked On Jaguars.

Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone says he feels comfortable with Koyack because he has been here, “He knows the system.  He can come in and go right away. We’ll just see how he looks. He’s in shape. He’s ready to go. He’s stayed prepared.” While the Jaguars did workout other players, they felt most comfortable going with someone who is comfortable in their system and can easily integrate himself into the offense.

Koyack was signed by the team yesterday on Wednesday shortly before early-morning team meetings. Being back with the team and with a brand-new quarterback can be exhausting, but fortunately, Koyack has familiarity. Koyack was originally drafted by the team in 2015 and has since been released by the team three separate times, including on September 1st of this year.

His claim to fame happened in 2017 during the team’s playoff run against the Buffalo Bills. Koyack caught the game-winning — and only — touchdown of the game for the Jaguars’ 10-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. The team’s first playoff win in a decade. Since then, Koyack has been waived twice by the team but is coming back when the team is red-hot with a young rookie quarterback in Garnder Minshew.

For Koyack, he has been around Minshew, playing with he rookie quarterback during training camp of this season.  “I’ve been watching him since day one, so it’s good to see him take the reigns and run with it and a great job.” Minshew is entering his fifth-start of the season.

The fifth-year tight is ready to get involved with the Jaguars’ new offense for the first time this season. “Of course,” Koyack said when asked if he was excited to get back out there. “It’s good to always get running again, and get involved with everything to help the team win.”

The Jaguars will need production from Koyack since they lost their most productive tight end on Sunday. When asked whether or not he and O’Shaughnessy have a great relationship, Koyack replied,”[He] and I are definitely boys, I mean we talked a lot, even when I wasn’t doing anything, I would always get in touch with him. It’s terrible to see anything happen, especially with your friends.”

Koyack says he and O’Shaughnessy have talked a couple of times after the injury, and he hopes for the best for his friend.

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Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard is excited for a return home

Demetrius Harvey

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Aug 29, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Andrew Wingard (42) during the first quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s game against the Denver Broncos is more than a game for Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard. The rookie is returning home where it all started.

Undrafted free agents are not often talked about. They do not have the clout which comes with being a draftee or the recognition which comes from talking heads rambling on about how much of a steal you are in the seventh-round.

None of that matters to Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard. For Wingard — signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming this season –, his family and the love for the game motivates him more than anything. While that motivates him daily, this week, Wingard has a little extra motivation as he heads home to face his childhood team, the Denver Broncos.

The Colorado native grew up sporting Broncos gear, going to their games and playing high school football in Denver. Now in the NFL, his dreams are becoming a reality.

“I’m so excited,” Wingard told Locked On Jaguars this week. “This is going to definitely be a very emotional and special moment, going back to Denver.”

Wingard will be surrounded by friends and family alike next Sunday. He says at least 20 tickets will be purchased for friends and family, and adds, jokingly, “Those tickets are pretty expensive so they’re definitely going to have to give me a little money.”

Growing up, Wingard was either surrounded by Broncos or Nebraska Cornhuskers decoration. “You know I’ve been to a bunch of games in Denver,” Wingard said. “My whole family loves the Broncos, and just to be able to go back there and be able to play in this stadium and play in the NFL — all of this is kind of a culmination of all the work I put in — its pretty surreal.”

While playing in the NFL was a goal of his, the determination, and resilience does not stop here. Wingard says he treats every mountain he climbs as a false horizon. While getting a division one offer straight out of high school was a dream of his, Wingard says he was not done there.

“I wanna be all-conference, I want to be a draft pick. I’m still climbing, I’m still climbing mountains. I go undrafted, I’m not done — I still want to make this team. Another false horizon. I wanna ball out on special teams. Next horizon. I want to become a starter, I wanna be a pro bowler — I’m never stopping, I’m always gonna keep going until I hit whatever’s above the sky.”

Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

As a kid, Wingard would love to play golf, go skiing, and play basketball, but football was his true love. There is only a limited amount of time any human has the capability to play one of the more dangerous sports in the world, and he wants to play it as long as possible.

One of his “false horizons” — to “ball out on special teams” — was seen last week against the Tennesse Titans. Wingard calls it “one of the cooler moments in [his] football career so far.”

It wasn’t cool because he made the play, but because of the excitement of the crowd, his teammates, and all of the high-fiving that came with it. While at Wyoming, Wingard was used to sold-out crowds — just not like this.

“A 60,000 something home crowd and everyone’s going crazy — it was really cool.”

As for the play, Wingard played a key role in the Jaguars first — and only — turnover of the season. Knowing how much it would impact the game to force just one turnover, Wingard flew down the field as Titans punt return man Adoree Jackson was attempting to handle a muffed punt. Wingard ultimately made the hit on Jackson, allowing Jaguars linebacker Leon Jacobs to recover which kicked off the Jaguars first start of the season.

Family means everything to the former Wyoming Cowboy, and his father, Dan Wingard, has always been right there with him. “My dad is obviously one of my best friends in the world,” Wingard said this week. “So is my mom, so is the rest of my family — but me and my dad, we’re sports junkies. You know we love —  like I said, playing golf, playing football, we love talking football.”

Dan taught Andrew everything he knew — including how to love football.

For his father to see everything, it means the world to Wingard. Being able to go through the trials and tribulations of pro football with his father by his side, he wouldn’t change it for the world.

“That’s what I do it for. I do it for my family, and I do it for myself, and I do it to silence the haters. I feed off people hating me. Just making my whole family proud.”

His family has rarely missed a game. Dan Wingard is an airline pilot which makes it easier for the entire Wingard clan to go out and see him play. Being able to see their son play the sport he loves means everything. When speaking to Dan over the phone on Wednesday, he expressed just how excited he is to see how successful his son has become.

“I don’t know if it can be put into words, but he’s always been really good at it,” Dan told Locked On Jaguars. “We’ve seen him excel and so while it’s exciting I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m not totally surprised — just because of his work ethic and how well he’s done in relation to guys his own age. ”

Wingard, Dan says, is what he would describe as a complete “self-starter”. The determination his son has is infectious and he has always been this way.

“He always sets goals,” Dan said. “For instance, on a snowboard, he wanted to do a 360 [spin] going off a jump. And so he would go try it, and if he was successful at it, it was onto the next thing. But if he wasn’t successful at it, he would just continue to try, and try.”

If Wingard was unsuccessful at something, he would do everything in his power to accomplish it. From going on youtube to phoning a friend, he would figure it out.

The entire Wingard family is excited — to say the least — to see their son, brother, and everything in between, play at home. Both of Wingard’s parents attended the Thursday night game against the Titans. Seeking shelter under the Jaguars’ cabana in the club section, Dan and his wife came out to just catch a glimpse of the aforementioned play their son made on the football field.

“When it happened, I turned to my wife and I said ‘He forced that fumble!’, Dan said. “And I looked at her and she’s got tears coming out of her eyes, jumping up and down and trying to wave her tears out of her face.”

The Wingard clan has always been a big sports family. While football was always in their blood — Dan and his father both played college football at Nebraska –, Wingard’s parents simply wanted their kids to remain busy.

While the younger Wingard predicts around 20 or so people to show up to the game, Dan says at least 40 friends and family will be at the game. “So certainly not only are we excited, but the extended family, the neighborhood and friends are all excited too.” The entire Wingard family used to be Broncos’ fans, however, the official switch to the Jaguars has been made. The family has spent an estimated $1500 on personalized Jaguars gear.

As such, a house once filled with die-hard Broncos fans will be sporting black and teal come Sunday.

Wingard family’s Jaguars gear arrived on Thursday — Photo credit: Dan Wingard

Wingard is widely known for his long blond hair. Earlier in the offseason, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone called him “mini-Thor”.

When he was around 13 years old, the Wingard family could not figure out how to discipline him when Andrew was younger. Grounding, taking away a cell phone, all of those types of things simply did not work on him.

One day, Dan says, “We just couldn’t get it through to him how we wanted it handled. And at that same time,  he had kind of started growing his hair out.”

After some frustrations, Dan finally spoke to his wife about it and she suggested, “well, his hair seems to be important to him what if we buzz his hair off or something like that?”

So they did. Dan lured his son upstairs one day when he wasn’t in trouble and after getting to his room, he shut the door on his unsuspecting son, took the clippers and took a chunk of his hair out right down the middle. At that point, Wingard had no choice but to buzz all of it off.

Never again, would the issue arise.

One day, Wingard went home to tell his Dad his basketball coach had delivered him an ultimatum. He would be forced to cut off his hair in order to play with the team. That year, Wingard’s football team made the playoffs, so his typical long hair still flowed. Wingard came up with the solution to simply wear a headband, but once he was told “there are no individuals on this team,” he became worried the hair would have to go.

For the past four months before this moment, Dan told his son, “Andrew you look like crap, get your haircut.” Wingard would continually shrug him off. It wasn’t until he came home to tell his father about the situation with his basketball coach that Dan gave in. Perplexed with the idea that his son would have to cut his hair instead of simply wearing a headband, Dan told Wingard, “nobody but you tells you to get a haircut — you do whatever the hell you want. (laughs)”

According to Dan, Wingard has not cut his hair — significantly — since December of 2014.

Credit: Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

Everything comes full circle, and for Wingard, this weekend is going to mean everything to him. Wingard’s family are not the only ones impressed by the rookie. His fellow special teams’ teammate, Jacobs told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday just how much he means to the team as well, “I’m really proud of him. He came in [as an] undrafted rookie, he cares. I think that’s half the battle. He cares, is always on time, always with the team. [He’s] reliable. That’s a big thing.”

While he is not the most recognizable face on the team, he will be welcomed with open arms to friends and family alike on Sunday. He has big dreams, and will always fight for what he wants to get. Wingard has shown throughout his entire life he will never settle, and it is paying off in big ways.

“To go home and be able to play and have all my family be there, its pretty surreal. So I’m super stoked for it.”

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