JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – We continue our weeklong look at the biggest questions facing the Jaguars as the 2021 season approaches. This week: How the secondary looks to improve with a handful of new faces, how James Robinson and Travis Etienne will be used together and what the future holds for Gardner Minshew.
Let’s start with the defensive backfield.
Last year, the Jaguars’ regular starters in the secondary were C.J. Henderson, Sidney Jones, Josh Jones, and Jarrod Wilson. This year, only Henderson appears to be in line to start on opening day.
In his rookie year, Henderson flashed early, then struggled as the season wore on -- and the team struggled around him. The Jaguars will be looking to see what kind of a turnaround the former first-round pick from Florida can make this year.
The Jaguars spent in free agency to bring in Rayshawn Jenkins -- the former Chargers safety -- and former Seahawks corner Shaquill Griffin. The two former teammates from youth football are reuniting in Jacksonville and figure to start for the Jaguars from day one. Between the two, the Jaguars invested $45 million worth of guaranteed money. They will be expected to provide a major upgrade.
The Jaguars also spent a second-round pick on Tyson Campbell, the former Georgia cornerback. The expectation is that he’ll be the Jaguars nickel, a position he rarely played in college.
The entire group will be expected to turn around a very telling stat from last year: the Jaguars leader in interceptions? Linebacker Joe Schobert.
Crowded running back room
In some areas, it is a question of whether the Jaguars have enough talent and experience to show improvement. In the running backs, it’s more about whether they can use the talents of the players in the room to their potential.
Last year as an undrafted rookie, James Robinson was a breath of fresh air in a forgettable season. Robinson had the best rookie season for an undrafted running back in NFL history. He ran for over a thousand yards and made it so nobody was pinning for Leonard Fournette. Can he keep it going in his second season in the league? Robinson impressed last years’ coaching staff with his maturity and professional approach, but those coaches are gone. How Urban Meyer and company view Robinson is still a work in progress.
The Jaguars used their second of two first-round picks on Clemson’s Travis Etienne -- No. 1 -- the expectation is that he’ll be used both in the running game and as a receiver out of the backfield.
The team also added Carlos Hyde, a former Meyer running back at Ohio State who is making a return to Jacksonville. How the Jaguars will use the running backs is a big question. Bigger still is whether there are enough snaps to go around to get the most out of Robinson and Etienne in particular.
Last year at this time, Gardner Minshew was coming off a rookie season that had the NFL buzzing with Minshew-mania. Nick Foles had been traded and the team appeared to be his. Then after an opening day win, they never won again and Minshew was in and out of the starting lineup.
Enter Trevor Lawrence.
So now what?
There is a school of thought that Minshew would make a great backup. He has a very good mind for the game and his scrambling ability can give teams trouble. You can’t blame all of 2020 on him, but he certainly took a step back. The X-factor here is what KIND of a backup will Minshew be? Is he the type who would take on a mentorship role with Lawrence, or will he be competing, trying to win back his starting role -- something that doesn’t seem remotely likely.
I can tell you this, he’s the best quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence in the Jaguars camp -- at least from what we saw during the off-season practices.
Is Minshew more valuable as a backup, or as trade bait that could bring a late-round pick back to the team? I think the latter, but we’ll see how Urban Meyer plays it. That decision is likely to be Urban’s first big personnel choice of the preseason.