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Washington State head coach Mike Leach believes in Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew

Demetrius Harvey

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Image credit: David Zalubowski -- Associated Press

Jaguars starting quarterback Gardner Minshew has a tough task ahead of him, and many around the league question if he is up for it. However, his former college coach Mike Leach absolutely believes he is.

When the Jaguars kicked off their 2019 season on Sunday, most of the country was watching as 88 million-dollar-man, quarterback Nick Foles, took over the franchise.

All the optimism, enthusiasm, and excitement in the air was quickly sucked out of the stadium within 20 plays. On a third and eight, Foles threw a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass to Jaguars receiver D.J. Chark.

The touchdown would come with a cost – the ultimate cost – as Foles was hit and subsequently landed on by Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones. The hit would knock Foles out of the game, and ultimately the Jaguars were forced to place him on short-term injured reserve, as he broke his left clavicle.

Enter Jaguars sixth-round quarterback Gardner Minshew.

Fights, distractions, penalties, and an overall lack of discipline ultimately were the three obstacles which cost the Jaguars the game on Sunday. Now, a 23-year old quarterback who nearly retired from football 2017 after hopping around small schools, and ultimately graduating before going to Washington State, is in charge and set to lead a team which many fears is leaderless without Foles at the helm.

Minshew made his own mark on the game on Sunday after completing 88% (22/25) of his passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The rookie was also nominated this week for Pepsi Rookie of Week one.

Minshew broke the record for highest completion percentage for any player in NFL history with at least 15 passing attempts in his playing debut. This isn’t the first time the rookie has broken records in his football career.

Playing in an Air-Raid offense at Washington State in 2018, Minshew would break records. He led Washington State to a record-setting 11-win season, took home the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the year award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Minshew also led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (70.7%), passing yards, and passing touchdowns.

There are many questions surrounding this team, but one of the most glaring is, the question of if Minshew can actually lead this team to victories in Foles’ stead.

At least one person believes Minshew can lead the team. And that’s his former college head football coach at Washington State, Mike Leach — the God Father of the Air-Raid offense.

Image credit: PAC-12 Network

“He’s very committed,” Leach told Locked On Jaguars in a phone interview when asked if Minshew was ready to play.

“I think he’ll be more ready down the road, but I also think he’s a great player. [There are] guys elsewhere in the league that aren’t as ready to play as him – and several won’t ever be. I do think he will be very productive, and I think he’ll do a good job. He’s an incredibly smart guy so he can pick things up quickly.”

While Leach didn’t watch the game on Sunday, he did see some highlights of the young quarterback. Leach says he thought Minshew played well, although he wishes he would have broken the consecutive completions record.

With Minshew set to replace a $100M quarterback, Leach says the most important thing for him to do would be to focus on the moment. “Just make plays.”

During the game on Sunday, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone indicated Minshew chose his own plays that he felt most comfortable with running, which can be attributed to his dedication to his craft, football IQ, and preparation.

Leach agrees all these attributes line up with what he saw in the bright-eyed quarterback back in 2018.

“First of all, Gardner is a very sharp guy,” Leach said when asked about Minshew choosing the plays he would feel most comfortable with.

“When you deal with him, it’s like dealing with a partner. You’ll get clear feedback and specifics — I think that parts good, but then I’ll tell [you], the other thing is, from a coaching standpoint, you got a rookie first-time starter. You want to run what he’s good at and what he’s comfortable with. And some of these packages are so big, he may not be comfortable with all of it – he’s doing it without a lot of NFL experience”

The Jaguars are going to craft an offense which Minshew is most comfortable with. On Sunday, his accuracy, decision making, and playmaking ability were on display. His completion percentage is already noted, however at least one of the throws Minshew had during the contest goes beyond his years.

Leach sang his praises when discussing where Minshew excels as a passer. Mentioning his ability to never take negative plays, and his ability to make something out of nothing. Essentially, making something positive without putting the team in jeopardy.

However, given that Minshew is a young quarterback, trying to make his mark in the NFL, a fair question would be regarding his ability to read the field. Most young quarterbacks have one or two reads and then either run or throw the ball away. But Leach does not believe that is accurate for the Jaguars young signal-caller.

“He’s smart at reading the field,” Leach said. “You know he’s not one of those guys that you just go out there and say look here and look here and then eat the ball. I mean he can read the (entire) field. And that alone puts him ahead of a lot of NFL quarterbacks, some of them with several years of experience.”

As a young quarterback, if you can see the field, it opens a host of options within the playbook. For example, at one point during the game, Minshew broke the huddle in a sort of wing-t formation. After getting the to the line-of-scrimmage he barked the calls for the offense to get into their playset.

Minshew went through each progression one by one until he found Jaguars tight end James O’Shaughnessy for a seven-yard gain. Although this leads to a fourth down, it shows the maturity and illustrates his ability, as Leach says, to never take negative plays, and read the field. The Jaguars needed some sort of score at that point in the game, and Minshew taking what the defense gave him shows growth and maturity.

Overcoming adversity was Minshew’s forte at Washington State. During the year, the Cougars had numerous comebacks. When asked about a time in which Minshew was able to overcome adversity, Leach said “We had one come back, after the next, after the next. It would almost be easier for me to tell you when he didn’t.”

In order to figure out which games stood out the most, one would have to see the schedule and go through it game by game. After a brief pause in the conversation, Leach quipped “See what our schedule was last year.”

And so, we did.

Wyoming.

“Well, Wyoming, which is a very tough place to play. They had a very formidable defense – he struggled the first half, it was the first time he played for us, he had a good second half. Okay, who did we play after that?”

San Jose State.

“Okay after that”

Eastern Washington.

“Okay who after that?”

The University of Southern California.

“Kind of a controversial drive at the end of that. I wanna stay out of trouble on commenting on that. Although I do have some definite thoughts that may be in a book sometime.”

Utah.

“Okay, Utah! Total war. Total war. And they’re the most physical team in our conference. Strong, brutally physical. Half their defense goes into the NFL every year. It’s back and forth all game. Our last drive, we’re on the minus 10, so we come back with very little time left. So that was kinda [a] last drive.”

Against Utah, Minshew threw a game-winning 89-yard touchdown pass to put the Cougars up 28-24 with around four minutes remaining, illustrating the ice in his veins.

Oregon.

“Oregon, back and forth game, [the] first time Washington State has ever been on game day. Against the most vaunted quarterback in our conference. You know, total war until we broke it open.”

Stanford.

“Last drive. Drives it down. We have one drive. You can look up how much time – 56 seconds or something. So, we go storming down there, kick the game-winning field goal. So he led that drive.”

Minshew would go three of five for 51 yards passing in the final drive against Stanford leading to the game-winning field goal with 19 seconds left on the clock.

California.

“Yeah, that was kinda a back and forth, kinda a defensive struggle.”

What about Iowa State?

“That was a back and forth game, they had a really good defense. Their running back got drafted. The receiver got drafted. They had a good quarterback. And then we had a deal where we had to control the ball and take a bunch of time off the clock against that defense, that was kind of impressive. [Gardner] did great, he had a ton of presence.”

Against Iowa State in the ball control situation, Minshew displayed his accuracy and ability to adapt his timing, recording 35 completions for 299 yards and two touchdowns.


Leading the team through multiple comebacks throughout the year was in Minshew’s genes.

On several occasions, the mustache-wearing quarterback from Mississippi has been characterized as being “fearless”. Coach Leach has said it, and most recently, Chark and Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor have attributed the quarterback to being fearless as well.

“I just think he’s really committed,” Leach responded when asked what makes him so fearless.

“I think he wants it so bad, and he’s committed and dedicated to the point, that he doesn’t let anything stand in the way. And if you have an attitude like that then you know, you don’t let things stand in the way.”

To be a fearless leader as Minshew was at Washington state is exactly what the Jaguars hope they can find in the coming weeks. A leader who will grab the reins and take the team the distance.

Leach has always been impressed with how Minshew would elevate the other players around him at Washington state. How he was able to generate a calmness around him and from within the team.

The greatest testament to Minshew’s leadership starts at the beginning of his tenure at Washington State in 2018. The assumed starting quarterback, Tyler Hilinski, unfortunately, passed away earlier in the year, and Minshew was ultimately set to take on the starting role after former Washington State quarterback Luke Falk entered the NFL draft.

“The biggest thing is – and he did it quickly — but, he was able to integrate himself with that whole locker room in a fashion that was really impressive. He became one of those guys in that locker room – and a leader – within literally a month.”

In a way that is what the rookie quarterback will need to do in Jacksonville over the coming weeks. He will need to quickly become the guy in the locker room. He will need to be able to lead, not only the offense but the entire team as the starting quarterback.

While Minshew has a ton of work to do in the short time he has to integrate himself, winning over the fans, players, and coaches this coming weekend against Houston would be a fantastic start. His old ball coach certainly believes he’s capable.

“I think he’ll do a good job.”

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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Marcos

    September 11, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Nice interview and Article. Thanks!

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Interview

Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook exudes toughness week-in and week-out

Demetrius Harvey

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Oct 20, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook (12) catches the ball in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Many players have bumps and bruises throughout the season. Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook is no different and has proven over the past several weeks just how tough he is by playing through it. 

Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook has been listed as having a neck/shoulder injury for the past couple of weeks now and has yet to miss a game. The soft-spoken, third-year receiver has still been able to “go crazy” with whatever he is tasked to do.

Although he was unable to finish the contest against the New York Jets last week, Westbrook played the entire game against the Cincinnati Bengals in week seven and had one of his best games as a Jaguars’ receiver since entering the league in 2017.

Entering the week seven matchup as questionable, Westbrook hauled in six receptions for 103 yards and added two rushes for 14 yards against the Bengals.

“I don’t know if it happened actually in practice,” Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone said on the Friday just before the team’s game against the Bengals. “I don’t know if it came after the game and then it’s one of those things that kind of later on you start to feel a little bit. I think it was probably a little bit of that.”

Westbrook has been on the gridiron ever since, playing as if nothing had occurred just a few days prior either in practice or during their week six matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Regardless, Westbrook has been one of the toughest players on the team for the past couple of years — and especially this season. Although he is small in stature, the former Sooner has an innate ability to run through arm tackles with ease and plays up to his competition.

Credit: CBS Sports/NFL

“He’s tough as hell now for a guy of his stature,” Marrone said following the team’s week seven victory over the Bengals. “Five of his six catches yesterday were for first downs, which is big. And then the one thing I do like about Dede is once he gets the ball in his hands, he always has a chance to do something well with it. He had about 40-something yards after the catch, so he’s important. Obviously, everyone knows the type of player he is and what he did for us last year.”

Marrone says Westbrook is one of the most important pieces to the Jaguars offense. Teams cannot rely on shutting just one player down in the Jaguars offense, and a lot of it has to do with what Westbrook provides on the field as a versatile player.

His offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, has seen just how much grit Westbrook possesses week-in and week-out.

“Incredibly tough, incredibly tough,” DeFilippo said during his Thursday press conference when asked about Westbrook’s toughness. “He plays a lot bigger than his size, and just unbelievably tremendous toughness. Very rarely lets the first guy bring him down ever, I just can’t say enough about Dede [Westbrook].”

Westbrook’s ability to play big at 6’0, 178 lbs., is one of the reasons why he is such a versatile, dynamic playmaker in the Jaguars’ offense.

DeFilippo raved about the third-year receiver’s ability to handle blocks in the run game while also running the gauntlet of routes whenever the team asks him to.

“We ask him to do a lot of things and he handles a lot of things well. We ask him to run option routes, and corners and get in the middle of the field, and there’s a lot of guys in there at times. So, I think he does a great job of doing a lot of the things we ask him to.”

Westbrook is asked to play the team’s ‘F’ position which DeFilippo says is not an easy position to play in the Jaguars’ offense. The ‘F’ receiver is lined up in the slot position on the field, typically played more inside as a bigger tight end or receiver tasked with blocking in the run game, but also must be quick enough to make a play in the passing game when called upon.

“I’m not trying to downplay any other position on our offense in terms of the skill players, but that is probably the toughest position to play on our offense.”

Doing the dirty work is something most receivers wouldn’t be willing to do, but Westbrook does everything the team asks of him, which makes him one of the toughest players on the field.

Jaguars’ receiver DJ Chark Jr. has seen Westbrook playing through injury and knows just how tough the ‘jokester’, as he calls him, is.

“He definitely [doesn’t] mind sticking his neck out there for his teammates,” Chark Jr. told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday. “Playing, never complaining. That’s the type of teammate that you want.”

Chark Jr. says Westbrook’s physicality helps the mentality of the receiver room, playing though, never complaining, and just sticking their necks out there for their team and teammates. The Jaguars will need that sort of toughness on the field on Sunday against the Houston Texans in London.

Westbrook is not the biggest guy, “Not at all,” Chark says. But, “he’s physical, he’s not stepping out of bounds.”

“He [doesn’t] like to call fair catches, but I tell him he should — a lot. But it’s part of the game, and if you’re gonna play a game like this at the highest level you gotta be able to have that chip on your shoulder. He has it. And I can see him playing this game for a long time.”

While Westbrook has 13 fair catches through eight games this season, he has returned a punt 14 other times and never goes down without a fight.

“Dede’s done a lot of things for this team, playing through injury, playing through pain. He knows that’s what a football player has to do to help his team succeed,” Jaguars’ receiver Chris Conley told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday.

Conley says he’s proud of the way Westbrook has battled through an injury and hopes the receiver can “get things fixed up and be ready to go” for Sunday’s matchup against the Texans.

“He’s gonna make a play in any way possible, and that he’s gonna keep it alive if he can. He’s not a guy that’s running out of bounds or who’s gonna go down. He’s gonna bounce off [of] people and see if he can make stuff happen.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Westbrook has seven AVT (Avoided tackles after reception) thus far this season which ranks fourth-most in the entire NFL.

“That’s just his mentality”

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Jaguars’ unorthodox plan working as Will Richardson finds his groove

Demetrius Harvey

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Sep 15, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor (75) and offensive guard A.J. Cann (60) and center Brandon Linder (65) and offensive tackle Will Richardson (76) react during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Jaguars deploy one of the most unorthodox transitions along the offensive line in the NFL. They’ll continue to do so until one player exceeds expectations.

When the Jaguars came into the season, there was an impression that fifth-year right guard A.J. Cann — given his contract — was the unquestioned starter along the offensive line. Since the season opener, much has changed. Not only due to Cann’s play — which has not been poor –, but also due to the emergence of a young offensive lineman trying to find his role.

A few weeks ago, Will Richardson told Locked On Jaguars he was excited to finally settle into a role at the right guard position. The second-year player out of NC State was asked to play multiple positions during the preseason and into the season including left tackle, left guard, right tackle, and finally right guard.

Being able to play at one position has been great for Richardson’s development, however, the Jaguars had one catch — he would have to split the repetitions with Cann as a way to get the most production out of the position as possible.

Over the course of the last four games, the Jaguars have used Richardson and Cann at the right guard position by swapping the two players every two drives. There really isn’t any precedent for this type of platooning along the offensive line, at least not during the game, and definitely not for this long into the season.

Marrone has said multiple times over the course of the season he will not simply name a starter. For now, he is perfectly fine with staying the course and allowing the production out of the position to speak for itself.

Now, four weeks into settling his role at right guard, Richardson says he’s grown immensely. “It’s been a huge difference just from the first game, to this last game — just in footwork, where my eyes should be, where my eyes shouldn’t be,” Richardson told Locked On Jaguars shortly after practice on Wednesday. “I’ve been picking up a lot of these things and they’re starting to become second nature”

Richardson has worked on his hand placement among other more technical skills to grow accustomed to his role.

One might assume the Jaguars are stunting his growth or consistency by continuously swapping him out, but Richardson says that’s simply not the case. “Gotta stay warm,” Richardson quipped. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing. We’re switching every two drives — we might come out at halftime with us having the ball AJ [Cann] starts his two drives, and I might not touch the field from the second quarter to the fourth quarter, so it’s just being able to stay warm.”

Having to stay warm is extremely important, especially for an offensive lineman. If you are constantly going in and out during a game your muscles can tighten up, and you won’t be as physically prepared. Instead of sitting down during defensive possessions, Richardson stands up, makes sure he gets a few squats and leg pumps in and gets ready to play on the following possession.

“I’ll take a few little sits on the sideline, but usually at the end that offensive drive when [the] defense is out, that’s when I kind of prepare, just to make sure I’m still loose.”

Another area of concern when being platooned with Cann is paying attention to what’s going on in the game, Richardson says. When you aren’t playing a lot, you typically aren’t able to see the things you wouldn’t see in practice. That includes tendencies and knowing what changes to make on a drive-to-drive basis.

One solution to that problem has been exchanging notes with Cann on the sideline during defensive possessions. “Every time A.J. [Cann] comes off the field — he just finishes his drive — and I’ll go up to him and ask him what’s he’s getting, what type of moves is he getting in the pass[ing] game, what type of stunts is he getting on third-down,” Richardson said. “In the run game ‘are they playing hard in the double teams?’ And this is every time.”

Richardson says the same goes for Cann when Richardson is done with a possession. The two will typically grab their iPads and get to work on keying in on specific pressures, looks, and plays the opposing team is giving them so the two can get a better understanding of how they’re playing.

Over the next several weeks Richardson will look to remain consistent and says it starts with technique. The team has done a fantastic job of running to the left side of the offensive line as opposed to the right side. A fair question to ask is: Is platooning two players at right guard affecting the overall play?

During the last four weeks of the season, the two guards have allowed 0 sacks and eight pressures (each with four) combined according to Pro Football Focus. The transition is absolutely working, and the team might want to consider using it throughout the season until it becomes clear and obvious who the better player is.

Richardson says playing along the offensive line and remaining consistent is more about technique than anything else. “Just going back to technical, so when I’m taking a pull making sure that I don’t have my eyes on the linebacker and I have my eyes on the gap and trusting it,” Richardson said. “As far as like pass protection it’s just making sure my feet are solid. When I throw my punch making sure I have tight hands so little things like that.”

When it comes down to the run game, the second-year player out of NC State says it is all about “Will, want-to, and footwork and just beating the guy in front of you.”

Richardson will have another opportunity to get better going up against one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in Geno Atkins on Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) take on the Cincinnati Bengals (0-6) on Sunday.

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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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