Jaguars’ Doug Pederson, Trent Baalke look to future at NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 28: Head coach Doug Pederson of the Jacksonville Jaguars speaks to the media during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on February 28, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) (Stacy Revere, 2023 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars finished Doug Pederson’s first season with a flourish. This week, they take the first steps toward starting Pederson’s second strong as coaches and scouts gathered in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine.

Will last season’s playoff run mean success for the Jaguars in 2023?

“I think momentum can carry you, but every year is different,” Pederson said. “We can learn from what we did, especially the second half of our season. I feel like we got the right guys, the right makeup, the chemistry, the locker room is solid. And those are the things you build on.”

With free agency set to begin on March 15, the Jaguars appear more focused on re-signing their own players than adding players from the open market. At the top of the list is tight end Evan Engram. In his first season with the Jaguars, Engram set career highs with 73 receptions for 766 yards.

So far, the two sides have not found common ground, but reports indicate that they could be getting closer.

“There’s a win-win in every deal,” Jaguars’ general manager Trent Baalke said. “You have just got to find that. We’ve got an organization that players now want to play for. And when you’re in that situation, it’s a great community, I think that the players got a real taste of what that community can offer.”

Right tackle Jawaan Taylor is also a free agent the Jaguars leadership would like to retain, but unlike Engram, the Jaguars have an in-house option to replace Taylor if they can’t get a deal done with Walker Little.

But this week, it’s all about the college prospects. The Jaguars hold the 24th pick in the first round, a world apart from the last two years when they picked first. Will the Jaguars stay at 24 or attempt to move up? It’s too early to say. There is so much that can happen between now and the start of the draft on April 27.

“You just play the waiting game,” Pederson said. “If there’s somebody a player ahead of us that you may want to grab, you try to make a move to grab that player. But a lot of times when you’re, you know, in the bottom, you know, third of the draft, you just wait and sit, and maybe there are teams that want to come up, and maybe you can gain more draft capital, as you sit there at 24. So, a lot of options there. And hopefully, the player that we target is sitting at 24, we take him.”

Of course, all of the decisions the Jaguars will make will have Trevor Lawrence in mind. The window of opportunity is now open to contend for a Super Bowl. The Jaguars will likely be picked to win the AFC South next season by just about every prognosticator. When you get the right head coach and quarterback, everything changes.

“(Early in the season) Trevor wasn’t as polished as he was (in the) back half of the season. That’s one of the things as coaches, we have got to take the good, and we got to build on that,” Pederson said. “And so that’s what we’re doing now, in the offseason, as a staff is looking at all our, our positive plays, and things we did well, whether it’s run or pass, and then making them better for ‘23.”

The Combine workouts begin on Thursday with defensive linemen and linebackers. The following day, defensive backs and special teams hit the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends are showcased on Saturday with running backs and offensive linemen working out on Sunday.

Quarterback interviews are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Among the quarterbacks invited to the Combine are Georgia’s Steton Bennett and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.

Possible top picks Bryce Young of Alabama, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis were also invited. Young will wait for his pro day to throw, but Levis, Ribardson and Stroud are all expected to throw.

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Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.