With the Colts final game of the season looming, they close things out the way they started them, against the Jacksonville Jaguars. I reached out to Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country to get a look inside the mindset of Jaguars fans to discuss how they’ve had our number, and what kind of outlook the fanbase has with Trevor Lawrence on the horizon. Here is our conversation.
The Jaguars have clinched the first overall draft pick, and should be welcoming Trevor Lawrence into their ranks come draft day. How excited are Jags fans to have an elite prospect at the quarterback position after struggling to find one for so long?
Jaguars fans are absolutely ecstatic. Despite the national media and fans of other teams thinking that Jacksonville isn’t a good fit for a superstar prospect like Trevor Lawrence as a smaller market team, I actually think Lawrence would relish the opportunity to turn this dormant franchise around and be the guy who leads the team back into being a contender in a couple of years. He is from a small town in Georgia of roughly 20,000 people, so he doesn’t come off to me as a guy who needs to play in a huge, bustling city like New York, in my opinion. He is still going to get No. 1 overall pick money and all of the endorsements offers he can handle. I don’t see him deciding to go back to school or demanding a trade on Draft Day. We will see, and I have no inside knowledge on this, but I actually think Lawrence would very much like to be a Jaguar.
Lawrence is exactly the franchise quarterback the Jaguars have been coveting ever since Mark Brunell, or at least David Garrard (who wasn’t a “franchise quarterback,” but fit great with the team), left Jacksonville. There hasn’t been a quarterback prospect with this much hype since Andrew Luck, or perhaps even Peyton Manning, and Lawrence may have even more hype than that. I wouldn’t say he is a perfect prospect because nobody is, but he is damn close and looks like the real deal. Obviously there is always potential for a player to bust, but barring injury, that doesn’t seem likely for Lawrence’s trajectory. In order for him to have success, though, he will obviously need help, and assuming he does come to Duval, the Jaguars need to do everything possible to build around him. With the most cap space in the NFL, a ton of picks in the 2021 Draft (including two first-rounders and two second-rounders), Jacksonville has the tools it needs to accomplish that. Lets see if the new general manager can make this a successful offseason.
Is there any chance Doug Marrone sticks around, or is it a completely clean slate for the Jaguars come Black Monday? Who are the candidates for HC and GM on Jaguars fans’ wish list?
I wouldn’t rule it out completely, but I would say the chances are very slim that Doug Marrone is still employed as head coach of the Jaguars entering the 2021 season. That said, he’s done a good job this year of keeping the locker room together in an abysmal season. I do like Marrone, he tells it like it is and he seems like a good enough dude, but I don’t think he is the right man to lead the new iteration of the Jaguars, likely with Trevor Lawrence. Most jaguars fans feel like it’s time for a clean slate.
As for head coaching candidates, names that have often come up either by the media or by the fan base include Urban Meyer (former college coach at Ohio State, Florida, Utah, etc.), Brian Daboll (offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills), Eric Bieniemy (offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs), Joe Brady (offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers) and Robert Saleh (defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, and former Jaguars linebacker coach). There are other names that have been mentioned too, but those are the most common.
As for general manager, Louis Riddick (ESPN Monday Night Football analyst and former director of pro personnel for Philadelphia Eagles and Washington), Rick Smith (formerly the general manager for the Houston Texans), Trent Baalke (current interim GM for the Jaguars and former GM for the 49ers) and Jerry Reese (former GM for the New York Giants) have been the reported candidates so far, with probably more interviews to come.
What players will make the building blocks for this Jaguars team as they go forward, and which ones do you expect to say goodbye to in the offseason?
The Jaguars are an extremely young team, so rookies have contributed a lot this season and will likely be on Jacksonville’s roster for the foreseeable future. Undrafted rookie James Robinson was a gem of a find, and will definitely be somebody the Jaguars want to build around. Wide receivers D.J. Chark, Keelan Cole and rookies Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson make up a promising group, especially paired with Lawrence if that happens. Defensively, the team needs to build around linebacker Myles Jack (who had an outstanding season on an otherwise putrid defense) and needs first picks C.J. Henderson and K’Lavon Chaisson to develop. The defense also needs defensive end Josh Allen to continue to get better.
As for players who may be done in Jacksonville, it will be interesting to see what the Jaguars decide to do with quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Gardner Minshew. I could see a scenario where the team doesn’t re-sign Glennon (let’s his contract expire) and keeps Minshew on the roster as a reliable backup (on a cheap contract) and somebody who can help mold Lawrence, but I could also see the two parties parting ways. I think other names to watch include left tackle Cam Robinson, cornerback D.J. Hayden and wide receiver Dede Westbrook (their contracts expire at the end of the season).
Apart from Lawrence at QB, what positions do you think need to be addressed to give this Jaguars team the best chance to succeed in 2021?
If Robinson walks away in free agency, the left tackle spot will surely need to be addressed. The Jaguars could look to upgrade the tight end spot via the Draft or free agency and look to potentially give Lawrence a security blanket there and add as many weapons for him as possible. Defensively, I think the team should look to bolster the secondary and pass rush. There is young talent on the roster, but there are a lot of spots that can be improved upon.
With just one game left in the season, how would you rate the 2020 draft class for the Jaguars so far?
Overall, I say it was fair. If I were to grade it overall, I would probably say somewhere in the B- range.
As mentioned, the Jaguars relied heavily on rookies: Robinson, Shenault and Johnson received a lot of reps on offense. Robinson was not technically drafted, but was easily the best player on the offense and set an undrafted rookie record for yards from scrimmage (1,414). Shenault was tied for second on the team in receptions (52), and used like a Swiss Army knife, playing wide receiver, lining up in the slot, playing tailback, playing wildcat quarterback, etc. He showed off his ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. Johnson’s stats don’t look incredible — just 18 catches for 272 yards, but he also had two touchdowns and 12 of his catches went for first downs, making a couple highlight plays along the way. Other offensive contributors include guard Ben Bartch, who played 220 snaps so far this season, and started one game and quarterback Jake Luton, who started three games, and while he had moments, looked mostly overwhelmed.
Defensively, No, 9 overcall pick C.J. Henderson flashed his potential, but had plenty of ups and down. He is currently on IR Meanwhile, K’Lavon Chaisson has shown what he can do from time to time, but has been very inconsistent and only has one sack this season. The Jaguars will need a lot more out of Chaisson in 2021. Defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton (also on IR) showed a lot of promise this season (as did undrafted defensive tackle Doug Costin).
Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer my question.