Jaguars offense rests on Minshew, but will line hold up?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Sam Acho, left, forces a fumble as he sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Last year, Gardner Minshew made some of his best plays while running for his life. Minshew and Nick Foles were sacked a combined 42 times last season, which ranked in the middle of the pack in the NFL, but too many of the sacks came on third down when the Jaguars’ opponents knew Jacksonville had to pass the ball. The Jaguars converted just 34.5 percent of their third-down attempts, seventh-worst in the league.

Despite struggling in pass protection, the Jaguars made only one notable move involving the offensive line this off-season, drafting Ben Bartch in the fourth-round out of Division III St. Johns University in Minnesota. That signaled that the players who lined up in the trenches for the Jaguars’ offense in 2019 will likely be the same guys doing the dirty work in 2020.

At left tackle, Cam Robinson is the incumbent, but he’s being challenged by Will Richardson, who played in 15 games last season at left tackle and right guard, starting two games. This year, Richardson has been moved to left tackle to compete with Robinson and after a slow start, Richardson has drawn positive reviews from Jaguars coaches.

“His whole college career he was a right tackle. I’d say in the last three or four days, he’s really starting to settle in being on the left side and getting comfortable back at tackle,” said Jaguars’ offensive line coach George Warhop. “Until he establishes as a starter for us, at some point in time if that occurs, we have a really valued—a guy with some extreme position flexibility. So, I like where Will is. I like where his head is, and again, he shows up to work every day.”

This is a watershed year for Robinson. Once considered a potential top 15 pick, he slid to the second round where the Jaguars took him with the second pick of the second round in 2017. After showing some promise as a rookie, he has battled injuries and inconsistent play.

“Health-wise, it’s like night and day,” Robinson said this month during training camp. “Last year, I was just trying to get on the field. Even at this point, I don’t even think I was cleared yet at this point last year. When I did get cleared, I ended up having another injury. For me, it’s like night and day, finally being able to be healthy. I am looking forward to it.”

And now, he’s in a battle for his starting job with Richardson.

“As he gets more settled in and he gets more comfortable, he can create some more competition, that’s just where it is,” Warhop said. “When he walked in the door, I wouldn’t say day one he was truly competing with Cam [Robinson], because Cam is so far ahead of him. As he closes the distance, he’ll start competing. And I think he’s starting to close the distance.”

The other tackle position is not up for debate. As a rookie, Jawaan Taylor exceeded expectations in his first year out of the University of Florida. This season, he’s expected to take the next step and prove that he’s the right tackle for the Jaguars for the foreseeable future.

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