Mark Brunell: Rookies shine, Minshew stands out in a great opening week

MMQB: Mark Brunell was very impressed by the Jaguars in their season opener on Sunday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the things I’ve learned about the NFL is that you never know what’s going to happen in a season opener.

That holds true more than ever this season. There’s been COVID-19 precautions, no preseason games and limited game-type situations in training camp. Throw in a new offensive coordinator and no tape on the opponent and that makes a season opener a legitimate coin flip.

But what a performance by the Jaguars on Sunday against the Colts.

We’ve heard so much about how bad this team is supposed to be and the players hear that, too. If all a locker room hears is how they’re only going to win three or four games and that does something. They say, “OK, we’ll show you.”

I think the thing that surprised me the most, something that I was pleasantly surprised by, was the performance of the rookies on Sunday. Until you get those young players in game action, you just don’t know how they’re going to perform.

James Robinson and the running game really jumped out to me. He’s an undrafted rookie free agent who most people probably hadn’t heard of before two weeks ago. So many people have questioned Dave Caldwell’s decision to get rid of Leonard Fournette and today we got a glimpse of why.

CJ Henderson had an interception and the final pass breakup on fourth down. K’Lavon Chaisson had an interception that was nullified by a penalty. Collin Johnson had a big third-down catch. Laviska Shenault had a touchdown catch.

Seeing a bunch of rookies contribute and play a big role in the game is a major positive, especially for such a young team. As young as the Jaguars are and rookies are playing like they did against the Colts, that is very comforting for me going forward.

That type of production from players in their first professional game was impressive.

I’ve written a lot about Gardner Minshew II and how his growth is pivotal for this year’s team.

He looked so much more comfortable in the pocket. There were three times during the game where I saw a significant change in how Minshew performed compared to last year.

Those same plays in 2019 Minshew would have gone out of the pocket and started running around. The pass that I saw represent that change was a third-and-8 call to Collin Johnson over the middle. Minshew is looking to the right, shuffled up to avoid the pressure and go to the second guy in the progression, which was Johnson.

That is improvement. That is growth. Last year, Minshew would have been out of that pocket. What an incredible day for him and so much progress from where Minshew was as a rookie.

Winning in Week 1 doesn’t change my long-term outlook for the Jaguars this season. I mentioned how impressed I was by the rookies earlier, but I do think that youth will create some challenges over the course of a 16-game season for the Jaguars. I did think they would beat the Colts on Sunday. They earned it. Can they build on this and keep it going?

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