According to their 1-15 record, the Jaguars were the worst team in professional football in 2020. Their 39-105 regular-season record under current owner Shad Khan suggests they might also be the poorest run NFL organization — on the field — of the past decade.
During his tenure as the Jaguars' owner, Khan has stuck with the status quo when it comes to football moves more often than not. He clung to Gus Bradley for far too long. Instead of cleaning house after finally firing Bradley, he kept GM Dave Caldwell around and promoted then offensive line coach Doug Marrone to HC and brought in the most familiar face in franchise history, Tom Coughlin, as the EVP of football operations. After Tom Coughlin's unwillingness to follow the rules and adapt to the current blew up in Jacksonville's face, Khan again kept Dave Caldwell around and decided to keep Doug Marrone too.
But following the 2020 season, with the number one overall pick and Trevor Lawrence on the horizon, Khan finally took a bold step forward as an owner. He hired Urban Meyer, one of the most decorated and heavily criticized college coaches of the last half-century, to be the team's next head coach. Meyer is a noted quarterback whisperer, offensive mastermind, and meticulous worker. Still, Khan kept Trent Baalke, who served as the team's director of player personnel and promoted him to GM. That decision was met with some criticism, fair or not. But make no mistake about it; this is Urban Meyer's show to direct.
We're now four months into the Urban Meyer experience. Are things finally looking up in Duval county?
Meyer's first task was to put together a coaching staff. He assembled an impressive and lengthy list of assistant coaches, including some of his most trusted colleagues from past positions, like Charlie Strong and Chris Ash. But Meyer wisely scoured the NFL ranks for his coordinators, landing Darrell Bevell to run the offense, Joe Cullen for the defense, and Brian Schneider for special teams. Adding Brian Schottenheimer as the passing game coordinator was another critical hire. Then there was the hiring of Chris Doyle to oversee the Jaguars' strength and conditioning ... Doyle had been fired from Iowa after allegations of fostering a program filled with racism and bullying. Still, for some reason, Meyer believed he would be the right fit. The first time NFL head coach quickly realized his folly — thanks to fan, media, and institutional outrage — and asked Doyle to resign from his post.
After getting the Chris Doyle mess cleared up, Meyer's staff and direction as the figurehead of the Jaguars' organization once again looked bright. He had amassed an inspiring blend of successful college and NFL coaches that bought into his vision. The groundwork for his first professional program had been laid.
Next up? Free Agency.
The Jaguars slapped the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, ensuring the return of all five starters from an offensive line that played just good enough not to be a significant liability in 2020. The hope here is that returning offensive line coach George Warhop will continue to develop this core group.
The Jaguars also re-signed some quality role players in cornerback Sidney Jones, defensive end Dawuane Smoot, interior offensive lineman Tyler Shatley, and cornerback Tre Herndon.
The Jaguars entered free agency with the most available salary-cap space in football. After an uninspiring start, the Meyer and Baalke rebounded strong, landing impact players like wide receiver Marvin Jones, cornerback Shaquill Griffin, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, and defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris. They also landed run-stuffing defensive tackle Malcom Brown via trade. While the Jaguars were able to sign Y-tight end Chris Manhertz, who will serve as an extension of the offensive line, they didn't add a pass-catching tight end in free agency, despite having plenty of interest.
Still, the Jaguars free-agent haul made the team faster, more experienced and gave them more talent and leadership on both sides of the ball.
The crown jewel of the NFL offseason, and the reason Urban Meyer took on this challenge, was up next. The Jaguars selected Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and immediately gave him a familiar weapon in slot-back Travis Etienne. The two Clemson stars will help shape the next era of Jaguars' football. After that, the Jags added some boom or bust prospects throughout the rest of the draft, focusing on familiar names to Urban Meyer. Cornerback Tyson Campbell, offensive tackle Walker Little, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, defensive end Jordan Smith, and tight end Luke Farrell had all been major recruiting prospects during Urban Meyer's time at Ohio State. While the Jaguars reached on some picks, according to many in the national media, they landed a generational quarterback, an explosive and reliable offensive weapon, and a host of talented supporting cast members in this class.
Now, the Jaguars are set to embark on Urban Meyer's first rookie minicamp, starting on May 14th. But wouldn't you know it, the Jags are still in the spotlight and the object of some media scorn. Urban Meyer is planning to bring in his former star pupil Tim Tebow. There is undoubtedly some nepotism at play here. Meyer's desire for familiarity and culture fits is plain to see.
So, where are the Jaguars? Do they have what it takes on offense, defense, and special teams to win some damn games?
The offense certainly appears ready to compete at a high level. The scheme will be a blend of Darrell Bevell and Urban Meyer. You'll see vertical aspects, plenty of zone runs, and a healthy dose of getting the ball into the playmaker's hands, of which there are many. Trevor Lawrence, who has a live arm, plus athleticism, and an uncanny ability to make off-script plays, will drive an offense that features James Robinson and Carlos Hyde as the primary running backs, Travis Etienne as the slasher or slot-back, and DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Marvin Jones at receiver. The offensive line is good enough, and with the additions of Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell, they'll have some help blocking on the edge.
Progress Report: It's full steam ahead for the Jaguars' offense. With this talented group of skill players, the offense will go as far as their rookie quarterback can take them. This grade could be far too low, but until we see Trevor Lawrence on a professional football field, we'll need to keep rookie year expectations in check.
GRADE: 83 B
Offensive Staff: 88
On defense, the Jaguars will run a base 3-4, but they will be multiple and will feature a ton of nickel and dime looks. Joe Cullen, who spent his last five years in Baltimore as the defensive line coach, will call an aggressive, attacking-style defense. The Jaguars have some hosses up front to clog up lanes against the run in Malcom Brown, DaVon Hamilton, Jay Tufele, Doug Costin, and Roy-Robertson Harris. Rushing off the edge, Josh Allen, K'Lavon Chaisson, and Dawuane Smoot should find more success in this hybrid defense than they did in Todd Wash's archaic 4-3 cover-3 scheme. Linebacker might be the greatest strength of the defense, with Myles Jack and Joe Schobert both playing at a high level. On the back end, the team will rely on Shaquill Griffin, Rayshawn Jenkins, CJ Henderson, and Andre Cisco (when he returns to health), to lock down opposing offenses and get the ball back for Trevor Lawrence and the offense. Assuming Cullen runs plenty of press-man coverage, like the defense he comes from, this group should show great improvement.
Progress Report: There are enough quality pieces in place to feel optimistic about this new-look defense, but until we see some progress from the pass rush, interior defensive line, and coverage players, it'll be tough to give them a firm vote of confidence.
Grade: 79.6 C+
Defensive Staff: 80
The special teams units for the Jaguars are strong on paper. Josh Lambo, if fully recovered from his hip injury, is one of the best kickers in football. Logan Cooke, the Jaguars' punter, is also among the game's best. Jamal Agnew is the most dangerous return man in football, and there are more than a handful of high-quality coverage players on the roster.
Grade: 93 A (dependent on the health of Josh Lambo)
K: 95 (if healthy)
FINAL COMMENT: Despite showing a little poor judgment, Urban Meyer has built a staff, roster, and environment that should allow Trevor Lawrence to thrive in the short and long term. There are plenty of offensive weapons and a host of talented defenders that should fit well in Joe Cullen's Ravens-inspired defensive scheme. As long as Josh Lambo is healthy, the Jaguars should have one of the best special teams units in football. Meyer has been forthright and transparent with information during press conferences and interviews, which has been refreshing.
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