It’ll be both familiar and unfamiliar territory for Gardner Minshew as the Jacksonville Jaguars starter approaches his second season in the NFL.
The former Washington State quarterback is coming off an eye-opening rookie year that saw him throw 21 touchdowns and six interceptions, break a number of franchise rookie records and capture more national attention despite being taken late in the 2019 NFL draft and beginning his pro career as a backup.
Here’s what should look familiar for Minshew entering year two: For the seventh time since 2015, when he walked on to the football program at Troy, the quarterback will be tasked with learning a new offense and everything that comes with it.
During a Zoom call with Jacksonville media Thursday morning, Minshew pointed out, “I learned, I think it was, five offenses in four years in college, which that doesn’t even make sense.”
When Jacksonville drafted him with the 178th overall pick, Minshew quickly found his way to John DeFilippo’s playbook and demonstrated a solid understanding of the concepts after he took over for Nick Foles the first game of the season, leading a 6-10 Jacksonville team to a 6-6 record in the games he started.
Sensing the offense needed a makeover, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone made a change during the offseason, hiring former Redskins coach Jay Gruden. While Minshew has an entirely new playbook in his lap, he’s at least versed in the study habits and work ethic it takes to pick up something that’s foreign – and has done it successfully at nearly every level.
“I think that experience helped me as I’m moving into more complicated NFL offenses,” Minshew said during the call. “It’s been awesome with coach Gruden. He’s in all our meetings, so I’m getting to hear the offense through his eyes and how he’s thinking it.”
And the not-so-familiar part for Minshew?
For the first time since his senior year at Brandon (Miss.) High School, Minshew enters a football season firmly entrenched as a starting quarterback. Minshew won a QB competition prior to his lone year at Northwest Mississippi Community College and competed for the starting job both years at East Carolina. He beat out Anthony Gordon and Trey Tinsley at Washington State in 2018 before settling in as Jacksonville’s No. 2 until Foles went down with a long-term clavicle injury.
The Jaguars displayed their commitment to a future with Minshew when they dealt Foles to Chicago in late March in exchange for a compensatory fourth-round draft pick, then cemented it when they decided against signing an experienced QB such as Cam Newton in free agency.
Some also pondered if the Jaguars would use one of their two first-round picks to take a QB early in the 2020 NFL draft to add competition, but the club waited until the sixth round to snag former Oregon State and Idaho signal-caller Jake Luton – presumably as more of an insurance policy.
“It didn’t change anything I do,” Minshew said. “I’m still going to work the same way, still going to lead the same way. I had conversations with (general manager) Dave Caldwell, I told him, ‘Do what you think is best for this team.’ I believe that I’m going to give us the best chance to win, no matter what, and I’ve just got to prove that every day, and I’m excited for the opportunity to be able to prove that.”
Learning Gruden’s offense in the virtual world necessitated by COVID-19 comes with challenges, Minshew said, but he’s drawn on his experience learning Mike Leach’s Air Raid at Washington State. Because he didn’t join the Cougars until March and didn’t arrive until July, Minshew was absent for WSU’s spring camp. He was limited to studying plays on paper, reviewing film and working out with Air Raid innovator Hal Mumme, who was coaching Division III Belhaven in nearby Jackson, Mississippi.
“When I was at WSU, this was kind of a similar thing,” Minshew said, “because I wasn’t there for the spring, so I had to do a lot of it on my own as well.”
In a media call Tuesday, Gruden emphasized the importance of building a relationship with Minshew, who had the highest grade (70.3) among NFL rookie quarterbacks in 2019, according to data from Pro Football Focus.
“It had better mesh,” Gruden said. “… Gardner’s competitive spirit, you can see it shine through on tape – when he was in college and obviously last year when he got to play the games he got to play. Now, it’s just matter of him getting some general knowledge of our offense and me figuring out what he likes, what he doesn’t like – what makes him tick – and go from there.”
Minshew spoke about the cross-country RV road trip he took right after the season, suggesting it was a much-needed respite.
“If I’m just at home or if I’m anywhere else, I’m going to get right back to training as soon as the season ends because that’s just how I’m wired,” he said. “But it’s good to be able to step back a little bit and kind of distance yourself from everything.”