JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Seven months after he was hired as the Jaguars head coach, Doug Pederson is on the doorstep of the first regular season game on the sidelines for Jacksonville. While sticking with his assessment that it’s not an overnight fix, he was positive about where the team stands with the season approaching.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Pederson said that the coaches were already in the process of preparing for the season opener on Sept. 11 at the Washington Commanders. He also said the roster may change between now and then.
“I don’t think it’s a final product by any means,” Pederson said. “Right now and we’re still working through some things but I feel comfortable from the standpoint that we’re healthy going into the regular season No. 1, that’s always a big thing when you start the year.”
The other aspect of the Jaguars giving Pederson optimism is the development of quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Having worked with the former top overall pick over the offseason and preseason, Pederson sees room for improvement but was positive about where Lawrence will start his second season.
“That’s a big part of this and his comfort level within the system,” Pederson said. “And really, how this team has come together over the course of the last six weeks here in camp, that really shows the maturity and leadership of this football team. Standing here today, yeah, you feel good about your team going into the regular season, but again, we still haven’t played a game (we have) a long way to go.”
When Pederson looks across the field on Sept. 11, he’ll see a familiar franchise with a new name. It will be the first game for the Washington franchise as the Commanders. In his time as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Pederson won six of eight games against Washington and he coached the Commanders quarterback, Carson Wentz, in Philadelphia.
“Obviously (I’ve) been in that stadium a lot. And, of course, (Washington head) coach (Ron) Rivera, a lot of respect for him,” Pederson said. “And Carson’s there, and we drafted him and worked with him. So I’m excited about that and looking forward to getting up there.”
Pederson won’t be the only Jaguar with a level of familiarity. Tight end Evan Engram played five seasons with the New York Giants, making a trip to Washington every year as an NFC East rival. He says the benefit for players is in the mental preparation for opening the season in that building.
“It helps the visualization side of it,” Engram said. “Visualizing the plays we have and the success we have. Knowing that you’ve been in that stadium, you can see in your mind what the field looks like and what the fans look like. Being in that division for the last five years, I’ve been there a lot.”
Everyone on the Jaguars is entering a new season with more new aspects than not. For the new additions, like the draft picks and free agents, it’s an entirely new location. For the new coaching staff, it’s a whole new team. And for the returning players, there are new offensive and defensive systems. But most of all, it’s a new atmosphere, brought by Pederson, of a calm, measured and experienced approach. A vast change from a year ago.
“It’s nice to have a clean camp. No, fights or drama,” said offensive lineman Tyler Shatley, the longest-tenured Jaguar. “I love (that) we’ve got good camaraderie on the team. Guys know how to practice against each other. So that’s a big thing.”
If the Jaguars are to go from back-to-back seasons with the worst record in the league to contenders, some big steps will have to be taken, but as the season approaches, there is optimism in the locker room.
“I feel like we are at exactly the spot we need to be,” said cornerback Shaq Griffin. “Of course, I feel like we’ve still got room for improvement. But I feel like if you asked me this every single week for the next 17 weeks, I’m gonna say the same thing. There’s always room for improvement. But I’m confident about where we’re at right now going into Week One.”
Pederson also said that he would announce team captains next week and that he would leave it up to the team to select two offense, two defensive, and one special teams captain. But he added that he would add a sixth captain each game at his discretion.
Pederson declined to announce the starting left guard or right tackle positions, only saying that he might make that announcement next week. Ben Bartch seems to have the inside track on the left guard position and Jawaan Taylor and Walker Little have been competing at right tackle. Taylor was named as a player who would not play in the final preseason game. Little also didn’t play but was available for emergency use. That may indicate that Taylor is ahead of Little, or it could have been a precautionary move since Taylor had an injury earlier in camp.