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Why the Urban Meyer Era in Jacksonville is Already Concerning

One record that many thought would be broken in week one was that a first overall pick rookie quarterback has not won during Week 1 since David Carr won his first game with the Houston Texans in 2002. That was not the case as Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars fell to the Houston Texans in their first game of the season. The Jaguars just didn’t lose in Week 1, they got blown out. The final score of the game was 37-21, but at one point Houston was leading 34-7. This is shocking because coming into this game many thought Houston was by far the worst team in the league and Jacksonville had the most improved overall roster. Here are some notable points that prove why the Jaguars’ new administration may cause disfunction on the field similar to what was seen this past weekend.

Analysis of Trevor Lawerence’s debut

Similar to when most teams team draft a new quarterback, Jacksonville was looking to see major improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Expectations are mildly high for this team on offense adding Trevor Lawerence and head coach Urban Meyer to a cast of young talented offensive weapons. Rookie quarterbacks are expected to struggle no matter how elite of a prospect they are. So the fact that Trevor Lawrence didn’t have the greatest start isn’t shocking. It is going to take some time for Lawrence to get accustomed to NFL-level defenses. He also has to learn what to do in critical game situations. An example is when Lawerence threw the ball across the field which led to one of his three interceptions on the day.

Urban Meyer’s lack of an NFL background

Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer is an extremely rare case of an NFL coach having no prior NFL coaching experience before receiving an NFL head coaching job. (Courtesy of Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

What could be the catalyst for the Jaguars’ growing pains could be head coach Urban Meyer’s transition to the NFL game. Before taking the Jacksonville job, Meyer had a College Football Hall of Fame level career winning three National Championships. During his time at Ohio State and Flordia, both schools became factories for NFL players. But Meyer shockingly has never coached at the NFL level in any capacity. So much like players, Meyer will have to transition to the NFL game. Based on the preseason and the team’s first regular-season game it appears that Meyer is struggling to make the transition and it already appears to have a negative impact on the team.

The first puzzling move that Meyer did came after the draft when he publicly addressed taking running back Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick. According to ESPN, Meyer told ESPN’s College GameDay that it “broke his heart” when a team selected a player he was targeting with the 25th overall pick. Then Meyer followed it up by admitting that the player was wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Meyer planned on using the former Florida receiver in a flex role in a similar way to how he used Percy Harvin at Flordia. He “settled” for Etienne who he felt could be used in a similar role.

Those comments are a terrible way to welcome your new first-round pick. Meyer welcomed his newest playmaker by publicly saying he planned on taking another player over them. It can’t give a rookie a lot of confidence entering the league knowing he was the backup option for his new team. It will be interesting to see how Meyer plans on using Etienne when he gets healthy next season and if he can fit the role Meyer carved out for Toney to fill.

In training camp, Meyer had first overall pick Trevor Lawerence split first-team snaps with Gardner Minshew. It was said that Jacksonville was engaging in a quarterback competition even though it was obvious that Lawerence was going to be the team’s starter. Shortly after Lawrence was named the starter Minshew was traded to Philadelphia for only a conditional sixth-round pick. That feels like a small return on a player who took valuable first-team reps away from a rookie starting quarterback and is regarded as one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks.

Meyer needs to learn that in the NFL those first-team reps are important and shouldn’t be wasted on a player who they planned on trading. Also, he needs to learn that trading away a valuable veteran who could have had a key presence in that locker room and role on the team is a big deal. Trading Minshew is not the same as allowing a quarterback to transfer. It is hard to find a capable backup of Minshew’s caliber in the NFL. If Lawrence was to go down there isn’t a younger quarterback on the roster, possibly just as talented, waiting for his shot and capable of leading the offense like there is in college.

Urban Meyer has way too much control over this organization

Urban Meyer Trent Baalke
Early on it appears that Urban Meyer has a lot of control over the roster and could have more say than general manager Trent Baalke. (Courtesy of James Gilbert/Getty Images)

During the offseason, Meyer has already attempted to replace multiple of the team’s young stars and building blocks that were already in place. The Jaguars have already replaced or shopped players like James Robinson (will eventually be replaced by Travis Etienne), 2020 ninth overall pick C.J. Henderson (being shopped after cornerback additions this offseason), Joe Schobert (traded to the Steelers), and Gardner Minshew (traded to the Eagles after the conclusion of the preseason). All of which appeared to be a part of the Jaguars rebuild before this point.

The next player to join that list could be wide receiver D.J. Chark. This is based on the team’s offseason moves of signing Marvin Jones Jr. and attempting to draft wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round and the fact that Meyer publicly criticized Chark before the season started. According to ESPN, Meyer commented “I just didn’t like his size. His strength, I just thought, was way below average, way below what we expect from our receivers” when asked about Chark. The fourth-year receiver out of LSU took that as a challenge to get in better shape to bounce back from the down year he had last season. He also told Chark “to get in the weight room” and to “get bigger and stronger because if you don’t, you won’t be able to help us”. Chark later commented that he looks at this as a challenge. But it doesn’t send a great message out to your locker room when the new head coach publicly criticizes one of the team’s best young players. Based on the way Meyer has treated other veterans that were already a part of this roster, Chark could be out the door when his contract is up this offseason.

Jacksonville’s free agency and draft made it extremely evident that Meyer has more say than general manager Trent Baalke, who was an executive last year for Jaguars organization before he was promoted to general manager and Meyer came in. The Jaguars drafted eight of their nine picks out of the Power Five conferences. The only player from a non-major program was fourth-round pick edge rusher Jordan Smith who went to Florida before transferring to UAB. They also seemed to target top high school recruits. They took three five-stars, four four-stars, one three-star, and one two-star.  Only two of their top five picks weren’t former top-12 recruits. Those players were Travis Etienne and Andre Cisco.

It appears that Meyer and the new Jaguars brass rely heavily on high school production when making their draft board. That is extremely uncommon at the NFL to rely on high school production to that extent, but completely surprising for the former elite college coach.

Those two points aren’t completely uncommon, but the extent of how obvious it is that this is happening to a team with some pieces already in place is concerning.

Urban Meyer’s game plan for Week 1

Urban Meyer
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t appear to have a great game plan in place for their first game against the Houston Texans. (Courtesy of (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Then in the first game against Jacksonville, it appeared that Meyer had an awful game plan. Houston was one of the worst overall defenses last season and on paper appeared to have gotten worse. Many expected the Jaguars to utilize their best (proven) skill position player James Robinson to set the tempo and control the clock early. Then when Jacksonville could have a lead late or the game was on the line they could allow Lawrence to be more aggressive with the football. Most quarterbacks and coordinators are conservative with their rookie quarterbacks early in their careers when it comes to playcalling. They tend to have run-heavy offenses until they feel that their quarterbacks are ready to transition to a more aggressive offense and more of the playbook.

Instead, Meyer had Lawrence throw the ball 51 times in his debut. Granted most of the second half of the game was garbage time where Lawrence could be pass-heavy. But instead, he threw his rookie quarterback into the fire and had him throw the ball all over the yard hoping that his talent would carry the Jaguars’ offense to lead this team to victory. He commented after the game that he didn’t want to be in a position to pass the ball that often. Meyer should have set the tempo for the game by running the football early and often.

In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a terrible idea. Here Meyer had to plan for a Texans team and defense that are expected to be at the bottom of the league in nearly every category. The upside to this would have been that Lawerence could have begun his career with outstanding confidence. But the downside was putting his rookie quarterback in a situation where he has to carry the team and potentially get blown out. That does not bode well for Lawerence’s development.

The Jaguars finished the game with only 16 rushing attempts. Veteran Carlos Hyde led the team with nine carries for 44 yards. He was followed by starter James Robinson with five carries for 25 yards. Then both wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and Trevor Lawrence had a rushing attempt each. By the time Urban Meyer definitely realized he needed to change the game plan to take advantage of the Texans’ defense, which ended up giving up 4.8 yards per carry, it was too late.

It is also concerning that veteran Carlos Hyde got more carries in this game over James Robinson. Last season Robinson was the lone bright spot of the Jaguars offense rushing for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Both have similar skillsets being great runners between the tackles that could be used in the passing game.

Why wouldn’t Meyer use Robinson which at this point of his career has higher upside than Hyde when used in the running game? It may be because Meyer and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have coached Hyde in the past. (Meyer at Ohio State 2010-13 and Schottenheimer with the Seattle Seahawks 2020-21) Also, Meyer may not think Robinson is the lead back he proved he was last season. This doesn’t send a great message to the veterans who were a part of this locker room last year and saw the undrafted free agent grow into a star. On top of that keeping, the ball out of Robinson’s hands limits Jacksonville’s ability to play winning football. If a team doesn’t give their stars opportunities they will not win.

It is shocking that an experience NFL offensive coordinator like Brian Schottenheimer let this happen. Schottenheimer came from Seattle where Pete Carroll wanted the team to be conservative and run the ball a lot. Schottenheimer has been accredited with Russell Wilson‘s success and “letting him cook”. He also had running back Carlos Hyde in his offense in Seattle last season. So the playcalling and comfortability with Hyde weren’t completely out of the cards. But it was unexpected because those didn’t seem like the best game plans for the team to win this past weekend and it resulted in a loss.

Summary

Basically, the future of the Jacksonville Jaguars comes down to Urban Meyer’s transition to the NFL game. Not only does he need to watch his comments about his players, but he also needs to learn the different values of an NFL game as opposed to a college football. There are not many college coaches who have stayed in their ways and ran their playbooks like a college football team that has stuck around the NFL and had great success. It is evident that Jacksonville has given Meyer an enormous amount of power because they trust him to get them back to relevancy. This may be a dangerous thing for the long-term future of the organization. A prime example of this is what is happening between Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders. If the Meyer and Jaguars do not get this fixed they could end up wasting the prime of Trevor Lawrence.

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