JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – How will Jake Luton’s first NFL start go on Sunday? Nobody knows, but the word that kept coming up with Jaguars coaches was a “challenge.”
Luton, a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft was chosen by head coach Doug Marrone to start the Jaguars game Sunday against the Houston Texans. Gardner Minshew is expected to be inactive because of a thumb injury. Although the Texans, like the Jaguars, are struggling with a 1-6 record, the obstacles to success for Luton are many.
Because of the pandemic, there were no minicamps, organized team activities (OTAs), or preseason games for Luton and other rookies to get a taste of the NFL. During training camp, Luton was listed fourth on the Jaguars quarterback depth chart behind Minshew, Josh Dobbs (now back with the Pittsburgh Steelers), and veteran journeyman Mike Glennon. His opportunities to work in the Jaguars offensive system were limited.
“I don’t think he’s called one of our plays in the huddle since training camp, so it will not be easy for him,” Jaguars' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said Wednesday. “It’s his job to be prepared mentally, make sure he goes through the right progressions, handles himself in protections, gets the ball deep to James Robinson when he hands it off and does things right and what he’s been taught this whole process. It’s going to be a great challenge for him.”
How does Luton bridge the gap between being a backup — a third-stringer — to calling the plays in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage? He reached into his pocket.
“I make little voice memos on my phone. I record myself saying the script and practice it over and over, that way I hear it like a play call, spitting it back out,” Luton said.
“I was sitting at home over quarantine, and I tried to figure out how to learn this remotely. I had my brother calling plays to me for a little bit. I had my girlfriend calling plays to me, but they don’t exactly know how to spit it out the right way, the right verbiage. I was like ‘I have to find a different way.’ It just made sense. I started recording myself. It’s helped me get to this point now, being able to say with confidence the play call. It’s something that’s worked for me.”
Luton’s college numbers were impressive at Oregon State. As a starter in his final two seasons for the Beavers, Luton tossed 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He is known to have a strong arm, and at 6-foot-6, he’s more of a traditional pocket passer than Minshew, who tends to use his legs to keep plays alive.
“He’s got a great arm,” Gruden said. He’s got the ability to put touch on the ball. He can stroke it now, that’s for sure, so we’re excited to see him throw the ball down the field. I think he has great vision too."
That may be an accurate scouting report, but Luton has yet to face an NFL defense or a live rush. On a Jaguars offense that has been struggling to score points (perhaps, somewhat due to Minshew playing with an injury on his throwing hand), can the Jaguars devise some ways to let Luton play free and easy?
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will be the realization of a lifelong dream for Luton, who, like many kids, pictured himself under center in an NFL game while growing up.
“I’ve wanted to do this my whole life,” Luton said. “I dreamed of playing in NFL and getting that opportunity to step out here will definitely be a dream come true.”