The Jacksonville Jaguars held their final practice before the first preseason game of the season, walking through a relatively light day on Thursday. Decked in only spiders and shorts, the Jags defense kept things to “two-hand touch” while the offense gave ample more attention to the back-up quarterbacks than previously done.
That’s what this time of the offseason is about; letting players who had been held back, receive more reps; make their case to make the roster. And work on the final details of each installation. Of course, the competitor in each—as well as the culture Head Coach Urban Meyer is trying to change—pushes them to still win on Saturday against the Cleveland Browns.
Encouraging that mindset began on Thursday, as Meyer opened practice telling the guys that he’d heard this game “doesn’t matter.” But it would be a chance for each to increase their value and show they were competitors.
Before showing the NFL that on Saturday though, guys had to show prove it to their coaches on Thursday. Who took Meyer’s message to heart? Who needs to step up this weekend? Who is going to make roster cuts a tough choice for the coaching staff? All those observations and more in today’s practice notebook.
Collin Johnson Will Make Receiver Cuts Interesting
Another day, another good performance from second-year receiver Collin Johnson. His sheer size makes Johnson a tantalizing option for passers, as he can tower over defensive backs at 6-6. With DJ Chark recovering (hand surgery) and Marvin Jones missing practice the end of last week, Johnson had been getting more and more reps to show what he could do downfield.
Jones returned to the field earlier in the week, so Johnson’s reps went down somewhat. But the ones he has received, he’s made the most of each time. On Thursday, for example, Gardner Minshew from the 49-yard line, launched one to get Collin Johnson near the red-zone. Johnson was pressed by corner CJ Henderson (who had a good day, more on that below) and was fighting both the coverage and the sideline. At the last second, Johnson used his large frame to turn back around Henderson and make the grab.
Those are the type of catches he can bring to this offense. And while the Jaguars have that type of receiver in DJ Chark, Johnson is a solid backup outside; he’s arguably the receiver with the most potential the Jags have in the second tier (behind Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault).
Shenault Can Benefit From the Preseason
If you recall, the 2020 NFL season was a little strange. Among the differences was no pre-season games. It was a move veterans liked, but hindered young guys; one’s like Laviska Shenault, who had missed part of the 2019 season at Colorado with injury.
Shenault was used a lot as a rookie, and deservedly so. He’s dynamic and can change a play the moment he touches the ball. But these next three preseason games can allow him to fine-tune the details that will turn him from an electric playmaker to a forceful AND efficient playmaker.
For example, on one play that sent Shenault downfield for a pass, he looked up just in time to see Trevor Lawrence’s pass sail overhead. The pass appeared at first to be too long; a Lawrence misstep. But then one of the coaches loudly reminded Shenault he should’ve turned sooner. He complimented the second-year receiver on his ability to dig to get farther upfield once looking back, but the implication was also clear; if he’d turned when he was supposed to, he could’ve tracked the ball better for a completion.
Those are fixable things that really hit home when missed in a game. With Chark still recovering and Jones one of the veterans who doesn’t need pre-season game reps, Shenault can take advantage of these next three games to make a big jump as an impactful receiver.
Luton Impresses With More Reps
Yes, there is a quarterback competition going on. No, despite what sort of tactical motivation Urban Meyer is employing, it is not between Trevor Lawrence and Gardner Minshew II. Instead, it’s a race for third. Until now, the way reps have been divided, it would seem coaches were favoring CJ Beathard (free agent signing from the San Francisco 49ers) to be the third passer on the roster behind Lawrence and Minshew. That very well may still be the case, but with the first roster cut-down date looming, the staff is taking the opportunity to look at every option.
Enter Jake Luton. The second-year passer actually saw decent action as a sixth-round rookie, due to injuries and interceptions keeping Minshew and Mike Glennon on the sidelines during 2020. During that time, he got three starts and completed 54.5% of his passes for 624 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions.
In training camp practice thus far, Luton has decidedly been the fourth-string passer. Some days, he doesn’t take a single rep during team periods. On Thursday, Luton and Beathard received significantly more reps. And call us crazy, but Luton was the more impressive of the two. Given what we’ve seen in actual game reps, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Luton has a higher ceiling than Beathard. That appeared to be the case again on Thursday.
The Oregon State alum started his day with a roll right and short dart to tight end Tyler Davis. He followed that up with a too-hard throw to Jalen Camp, highlighting an area of his game that can still use some polishing; finesse. But Luton’s intangibles are there to be molded, as he flashed with a deep touchdown pass to Jeff Cotton in stride.
During the last team/situational period, Luton received all of the reps. The situation put the offense on the 50-yard line, with 0:55 to play, one timeout and in need of a touchdown. Luton went 4-5, moving the chains for two first downs and getting guys toward the sideline out of respect for the one timeout.
One throw to Tevin Jones was especially impressive, bringing the receiver up out of double coverage, to come down with the ball. Jones turned and ran in for the touchdown, but with the defense playing two-hand touch, he was marked out at the 3-yard line.
With 0:04 remaining, Luton went looking for Jones yet again. The throw was too high in the corner of the endzone, but it stopped the clock. With 0:01 to go, and one shot to score, Luton let the play develop, getting Jamal Agnew around the defense and at the pylon. A dart from Luton was enough for the touchdown.
CJ Henderson Runs With the One’s
“He’s doing good,” Meyer said of Henderson before practice began. “He’s been fighting…he’s had two really good days, so I’m counting on a third great day.
By our account, Henderson did in fact have a good third day. He received an entire series with the first-team defense. During that time, he gave up a short catch to Laquon Treadwell. But he also was in on multiple tackles, peeling off his receiver to throw himself into run defense, and coming up on tight ends in the short passing game. Henderson has always played with a physicality that compliments his coverage skills. Throwing himself back into that aspect of his game so quickly is an encouraging sign for Meyer.
James O’Shaughnessy Is A Safety Blanket
The tight end missed the first third of training camp while nursing an ankle injury. But since his return, he’s become a bigger and bigger part of this offense. On Thursday in particular, he was a safety blanket, no matter the quarterback. Whether the intended target or a dump off option when flushed, O’Shaughnessy was always in position to make a play.
While he was gone however, the Jags worked on bringing Chris Manhertz along more as a pass-catching tight end, as opposed to just the blocking tight end he’s been in his career thus far. Even with O’Shaughnessy drawing more attention, Manhertz remained a part of the plan on Thursday, indicating the Jags could have the two tight-end system for which they’ve longed.
Etienne and Robinson Can Co-Exist
There’s been this unfounded belief that Travis Etienne or James Robinson had to come at the expense of the other; that only one could be a featured part of this offense. The more we see of them in practice, the more that fear rings hallow. Robinson made plays both up the middle and on the outside on Thursday, while Etienne consistently found yardage on short passes that allowed him to work in space.
These are two different type of players who give the Jaguars multiple looks, even at the same position. They can be used as such.
Play of the Day: Keeping Up With the Joneses
The play of the day may not have been a play at all; it’s still being debated. From the 50-yard line, Trevor Lawrence rainbowed a pass to Marvin Jones in center field. The veteran receiver had safety Josh Jones on his back, but got both hands out to haul in the contested catch. It was a heck of a catch…maybe. Because as the two Joneses fell to the ground, Josh Jones kept fighting for the ball. As they landed, the ball popped out of Marvin Jones’ hands.
The defense cried incomplete as the offense swore the receiver had maintained possession. Fernando Lovo, the Jags chief of staff and announcer at practice, declared it a catch. In a real game, with booth review, it might have been overturned, while Twitter would be a 50/50 split on whether it was a catch, while tagging Dez Bryant in their opinions.
Whether an incredible catch/possession or a hustle play to the last second to break up the pass, someone came away with the play of the day.