Doug Pederson: ‘There’s potential there’ for big season

Jaguars coach likes team on paper, but knows big challenges ahead

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) makes a catch during a passing drill in practice at the NFL football team's training camp, Monday, July 31, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) (John Raoux, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Doug Pederson likes the potential on paper, but translating that to real-world success is a different task and he’s quick to point that out.

The Jaguars stunned the football world last season with a second-half turnaround that led to an AFC South title and the greatest expectations for the franchise since late 1990s. Pederson earned AFC coach of the year honors from one organization and was a finalist for the overall coach of the year in another. With Trevor Lawrence entering his third year in the league and one of the most talented offensive units in Jacksonville ever, the Jaguars are positioned for a big season.

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But Pederson has been careful to try and keep expectations in check throughout the offseason. The Jaguars are ascending, but they haven’t done anything on the field yet this year.

“I mean, I think we’re still a ways away, honestly. We’re still working through a lot of different things …,” Pederson said. “On paper, you think, ‘OK, you can probably be a decent football team and compete and be there in the end.

“But a lot of things factor into that. You don’t just go out on a limb and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be this.’ I like where the guys are, I like how they’re working in practice, even in pads yesterday the first day, guys practice fast. There’s potential there. Again, it’s hard for me to just say, ‘We’re going to be this’ because we take it one day at a time.”

Jacksonville’s work in pads this week has been a bit of mixed bag. On Tuesday, the offense had greater success across the board. A day later, the strong start by receivers Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones and Christian Kirk was tempered with a little bit of the drops. Tight ends Evan Engram and Gerrit Prince had the best showing among the pass catchers, hauling in touchdowns during red zone work.

It’s difficult to glean much from scaled down sessions where the full contact is minimal and individual drills are tilted more in favor of offensive players, but Pederson said that he’d allow tackling at times in camp. Last year’s camp featured a couple days of big time contact and collisions the coaching staff would probably like to see less of.

“It’s a fine line, right? I don’t do a lot of live tackling stuff. At the same time, we make sure the defense is rallying and at least the thud bumping up to the offense. You put them through individual drills, and you try to work on it,” he said. “You get into these preseason games, and you preach it and you talk it, now it’s just a matter of doing it. There will be a couple of days coming up where I’ll let the defense tackle the offense. It’s important that tackling, especially in space, to be able to get guys on the ground.”

Edge Josh Allen thought the defense lagged a little bit on the first day of full pads, and his message came across loud and clear. On Wednesday, defenders had greater success in the headlining battles. Tyson Campbell shined in his matchups with Ridley, holding him without a catch in four head-to-head battles. Darious Williams also had a shot at Ridley, but Lawrence overthrew his receiver.

“It’s been great, man. I love every bit of it,” Campbell said of his matchups with Ridley. “He’s going to make Sundays so much easier for me and I’m going to do the same for him. I’m just competitive, I love competing with anybody. He’s a great player and I just love competing at the end of the day. That’s just how we are, we love competing and I love it.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.