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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 defensive end Josh Allen is just getting started

Demetrius Harvey

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Sep 8, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen (41) looks on during the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Selecting defensive end Josh Allen at seventh overall was — by many observers — a complete steal by the Jaguars. Now, the young pass rusher is honing his craft to become one of the best in the league.

Throughout the offseason, preseason, and now shortly into the regular season, Jaguars fans and the Jaguars coaching staff have seen the type of versatility, pass rush, and skill set  Josh Allen can provide to the team.

Whether it’s playing linebacker, defensive end, or defensive tackle, Allen can do it all. Coming into the 2019 NFL Draft, Allen was thought of as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker. However, in just a few months the now-275-pound athlete is proving otherwise.

“The most I can do man is the better I can be,” Allen told Locked on Jaguars shortly after practice this week when asked about his versatility. “It means I can be out there on the field more, doing more things. I love being a versatile player, I love being able to do a lot of different things so I can stay on that field as much as I can and make plays for my team.”

The Jaguars rookie played 75% of the team’s defensive snaps last week (51/68 plays) while seeing action at three separate positions — defensive end, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker. Allen has also shown he can defend the pass, especially in the flats as seen during the team’s third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.

The fiery pass-rusher dons the number 41, a number in which he himself admits is unconventional, and while at first, he did not care for it, it eventually grew on him.

“My freshman year I thought it was my locker number,” Allen said while laughing. “I wasn’t happy when I got it. I was trying to change it, to be real. You know they told me I couldn’t and it just stuck with me and I just kept wearing it.”

Typically a player’s number has some sort of significance to it, but that is not the case for Allen. What is significant to him, however, is his son. The absolute reason why he suits up and plays with the intensity that he does on the gridiron. While Allen wants to be the best player, his son has always, and will always come first.

“You know I got in this game to give my family a better opportunity at life, and now that I’m here man, it’s just my main focus is to provide for my family and provide for myself.”

While at Kentucky, Allen nearly entered the draft as a junior, but once his son was born he had a different perspective on life, and on football. As a junior, Allen posted seven sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss. Respectable numbers which likely would slot him in the first to the third-round range. Allen took it as a challenge and flourished.

During his senior year, Allen posted record-setting numbers with 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles-for-loss which — for a Kentucky defensive player — is unheard of. To that end, Allen quickly climbed draft boards, many slotting him in as a top-three pick.

Now in the NFL, Allen is striving for even more. “Of course I want to be the best,” Allen said. “I got a little bit on my shoulders, but I’m willing to go a long mile with that.”

The defensive end will have a lot on his shoulders this Sunday. With his partner-in-crime Yannick Ngakoue out with a hamstring issue, many assume Allen will need to pick up the slack left by the pro bowler’s absence, but that is not his mentality at all. Instead, Allen looks at it in a rather selfless, team-oriented perspective.

“It is what it is,” Allen said when asked about Ngakoue being out on Sunday and him playing a little more. “I pray he gets better. That’s main priority number one, is for him to get healthy. It’s not about me playing more or him not being here. It’s about him being healthy and us playing 100% on the defense.”

Allen has been about the team more than himself since college, illustrating that with his desire to suit up in a bowl game he didn’t necessarily have to play in. Now in Jacksonville, that perspective has not changed. Similar to his role on Sunday.

“My role hasn’t changed any,” Allen said. “I played when he was in the game, played when he (Ngakoue) wasn’t in the game. It’s not gonna be a big change for me, but I just pray he gets better so we can be a complete unit.”

While Allen’s role may not change for Sunday, not having Ngakoue will most definitely affect the Jaguars chances of winning. Ngakoue has yet to miss a game during his four-year career, and has been the most productive edge rusher on the team during that span, along with defensive end Calais Campbell.

Allen didn’t grow up a football player, and instead played basketball the majority of his life. Once he put the football pads on, however, Allen says he started studying all kinds of pass rushers. Allen would go on to list them off. (Bears defensive end) Khalil Mack, (Broncos outside linebacker) Von Miller, (Former Broncos outside linebacker) DeMarcus Ware, (Colts defensive end) Justin Houston. Some of the best defensive ends, and football players of the past decade. “I feel like I can do the stuff they do,” Allen quipped.

Allen has drawn comparisons to Mack and Miller throughout the draft process and even now shortly into his professional career. If Allen can “do the stuff they do”, he will have been an absolute steal as many pundits predicted.

For now, Allen will continue to hone his craft and stay under the wings of Campbell and Ngakoue. He has leaned on both players for guidance throughout the offseason, and into the regular season. “Calais has been in the league for a long time, Yan for a little bit of time — he’s one of those primetime players,” Allen said. “Having them in my corner has been a blessing, a big help. Not only is it gonna help me, but they’re gonna help the whole team as well.”

Now, going into his second career game, his next test will be against one of the best offensive tackle’s in the game in Texans offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. “He’s a big guy, he’s real physical on the point of attack,” Allen said when asked what he’s seen out of Tunsil on tape. “It makes a lot of big plays. He’s [a] real athletic tackle — that doesn’t discredit anything — so we’re still gonna have to put the pressure on him and get to the quarterback.”

It’s clear former Wildcat thinks highly of himself. Last week, Allen was credited with having three pressures and one quarterback hit according to Pro Football Focus — the most amount of overall pressures on the team. Yet, the defensive end described his play as just “alright”, when asked about it.

“I know I can work on some things to get better and plan to do those this week.”

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