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NFL Draft Q&A: Coug Center on sixth-round quarterback Gardner Minshew

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NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Iowa State vs Washington State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II in the sixth-round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and now he’s on a fast track for the backup role behind starter Nick Foles.

Continuing on in our post-draft Q&A series, we got ahold of Jeff Nusser, co-founder and managing editor of Coug Center — SB Nation’s website for all things Washington State Cougars athletics.

Minshew is an interesting character, as well as a smart and dedicated football player. He is one of the more intriguing prospects in Jacksonville’s 2019 draft haul. Jeff explains below:

1. There is a lot of talk about Minshew’s smart play and poise on the field, but also questions about his arm strength and whether or not he’s just a product of the Air Raid system. What would you say Minshew’s best strength is? What areas do you think he needs to improve in?

Jeff: The word that pops into my head when I think about what made him so good is “command.” Command of the offense, command of his team, heck even command of the university community — we recycled an old joke by saying “it’s Minshew’s world, and we’re all just living in it.” He just has this presence about him that oozes leadership. But it’s not just what we would call “personality;” he infects everyone with his work ethic and enthusiasm to the point that they are simply compelled to follow him because of his example.

Of course, none of that would matter if he couldn’t run the Air Raid, and he quickly demonstrated exceptional control of an offense that demands a lot of the QB and can best be described as “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” Part of that was having run a lot of Air Raid concepts in the past; part of that was having been at so many schools he had learned to adapt quickly. It’s not an exaggeration to say he ran Mike Leach’s Air Raid as well as any quarterback we’ve had at WSU. And it wasn’t just making the right throws — it also was his elusiveness in the pocket to extend plays, his penchant for avoiding big mistakes, and his knack for making something happen in critical moments. He’s a gamer of the highest order.

Weaknesses? The questions around his arm strength are legit and might limit his upside as an NFL quarterback; it’s possible to improve there, though, and I wouldn’t put it past him to do that. Heck, I wouldn’t put anything past him at this point. Nobody is going to outwork him, and if he ever gets a real shot to seize a starting job, he’s going to be as well prepared for it as anyone can possibly be, because this is a guy who has always bet on himself. All he needs is a chance. He’ll be ready.

2. It’s hard to bring up, but Minshew had to come into a tough situation in Pullman — taking over for Tyler Hilinski, who tragically took his own life prior to the season. How was Minshew able to not only handle the intensity of that situation, but also earn the trust and respect of his teammates and community? Was he able to honor Hilinski throughout the season at all?

Jeff: This obviously was the subtext to everything. Minshew talked very little about his role in that during the season — by design, it seemed — but at the end, he did open up a bit about his desire to be respectful of the loss and not try to explicitly fill that void. He just was himself, simultaneously acknowledging the situation but keeping it at arms’ length. It was a hell of a trick, to be honest. He likes to cite a piece of advice his dad gave him: “The coach doesn’t choose the QB — the team does.” So, when he arrived, he set about leading by example: Lifting more, trying to win every conditioning drill, etc. He won their respect long before he won the job, and that’s how he was able to navigate such a delicate situation.

3. Expanding on that last thought a bit, Minshew seems beloved by the Washington State fanbase and community. What is it about him that seems to captivate those around him?

Jeff: Well, it starts with the winning — without that, he’s just a dude in jorts with a funny mustache. I mean, nobody at East Carolina was particularly broken up about Minshew’s departure, let alone writing songs about him. (That actually happened.) It’s also the manner in which he won; he was at his best in the fourth quarter, engineering late game-winning drives to beat Utah, Stanford and Cal (Editor’s note: holy hell, do yourself a favor and look at that graphic). And there’s just this flair and panache about his game. The enthusiasm that won over his teammates was also obvious for all of us to see on a weekly basis — you can’t fake it. He loves playing football, and he loves being a Coug, and given how much we all also love our school, we couldn’t help but be enamored.

But the crazy thing is also how much humility he showed, even as his star blew up. He was always quick to praise others and just be the guy from rural Mississippi that he is. He’s just a regular dude who was determined to enjoy every moment as a gift.

4. Minshew was a guy who received zero Division 1 offers coming out of high school. He’s spent time at Troy, Northwest Mississippi Community College, East Carolina and of course Washington State. He seems to persevere through adversity and had a challenging path, but now he’s an NFL quarterback. What does his persistence tell us about his character?

Jeff: I think it tells you everything about his potential as an NFL QB. I think it’s safe to say that there aren’t very many players who would have continued to grind in that fashion and been ready to capitalize on his chance the way Minshew did at WSU. The well-told story of him nearly going to Alabama often glosses over an important fact: While everyone believed Minshew was going there to hold a clipboard — that’s probably what Nick Saban believed — Minshew was going there with the belief that he could *win the job.* He has a relentless belief in his ability that comes from confidence in knowing that he’s as prepared for any opportunity as any player possibly can be. And if that was as easy as it sounds...well, the NFL wouldn’t be littered with so many talented guys who didn’t make it because they couldn’t or wouldn’t do what it takes.

5. It’s pretty much a given at this point, but do you think he can make Jacksonville’s 53-man roster as a sixth-round pick? Do you see Minshew eventually becoming an NFL starter, be it in Jacksonville or somewhere else?

Jeff: First off, he’ll make the roster. 100% guarantee it. Whether he becomes a starter...well, that’s a function of opportunity, right? It’s why I loved him going to Jacksonville, though. He’ll be behind a guy who was signed to take the job, but that guy also has some pretty significant question marks when it comes to his ability to be a franchise guy. Maybe Nick Foles is very good, and Minshew sits around for a few years absorbing everything before getting a shot. Maybe Nick Foles is actually quite bad when he’s not in Philadelphia, and Minshew gets that shot a little sooner. Either way, I think he’ll do enough in Jacksonville as a backup to convince someone he should get an audition as a starter. Whether he’ll be good enough? We all know how hard it is to be a quarterback in the NFL, and there’s a reason he was a sixth rounder. But whenever the chance comes, he’ll absolutely be ready for it.

6. Is there anything else we need to know about Minshew -- outside of the fact that he looks Uncle Rico?

Jeff: Well, there was that one time he held a puppy in front of an American flag and asked fans to come to a game.

A big thank you to Jeff for giving us a great look into the person and football player that Minshew is. For more great Washington State insights, be sure to follow Coug Center on Twitter.

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