The Jacksonville Jaguars certainly didn’t expect to enter this offseason managing another coaching search after hiring former star college coach Urban Meyer last offseason.
Meyer’s tenure in Jacksonville was a disaster, to put it mildly, though, and he was fired after just 13 games as the team’s coach. Meyer’s off-field behavior and his locker room demeanor were both issues in never really gaining the trust of players he was coaching, and the instability and distractions he created were particularly problematic as the team tried to develop a franchise quarterback in No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence.
It’s hard to top the drama associated with Meyer’s quick hiring and firing, but the Jaguars certainly came close this offseason. The team appeared set to hire Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who had coached Tom Brady and guided the Bucs’ offense to a Super Bowl win a season ago. Leftwich is also a former Jaguars quarterback himself, so bringing him back to the city seemed like a no-brainer hire.
Leftwich, however, did not want to work with general manager Trent Baalke. And when the Jags wouldn’t fire him, Leftwich declined to take the job.
With Leftwich out, the team instead hired former Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson. Pederson won a Super Bowl in Philadelphia, but didn’t have a great relationship with quarterback Carson Wentz. Not repeating that pattern with Lawrence is the obvious first step to having a successful tenure in Jacksonville. Here are three questions for Pederson as he takes over as coach.
Can the team develop Lawrence into a franchise quarterback?
Lawrence threw for 3,600 yards last season, but had just 12 touchdown passes with 17 interceptions and completed less than 60 percent of his passes. He was incredible, though, in a shocking season-closing win over Indianapolis that denied the Colts a playoff spot, and Jacksonville will hope to build on that.
The best thing they can do for him is add more weapons. Running back James Robinson is a good young player who was inexplicably punished by Meyer last season. Travis Etienne, who missed his entire rookie season with an injury, should return to form a dynamic combo with Robinson.
Adding a big-play receiver to the mix was a major offseason priority, and the team picked up former Arizona Cardinal Christian Kirk to see if he can become a go-to target. Pederson’s offensive roots should also help open up an offense that often looked stagnant and predictable last season.
Can they build any semblance of a defense?
Jacksonville had an anemic defense last season, and that has to be rapidly addressed if the team is going to avoid another struggle of a season.
They used this year’s draft to start remaking their defense, with three of their four picks in the first three rounds being used on defensive players. No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, a defensive end, and No. 20 pick, linebacker Devin Lloyd, figure to be centerpieces of the defense immediately. Third round linebacker Chad Muma should also push for a lot of playing time immediately thanks to his speed and athleticism.
Can they find some peace for a bit?
After two straight drama-filled offseasons, the Jaguars would be well-served by finding some organizational consistency. Baalke, despite intensifying public criticisms, remains on the job and the team’s history of pulling the plug quickly on coaches, conflicts between coaches and players, and coaching candidates not wanting to work with their chosen GM doesn’t seem like a solid environment.
If the team can show patience with Pederson and spend money wisely to support Lawrence in free agency, they have assembled enough young talent to have a shot at turning around that recent chaos.
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