In what Gruden called an “easy decision”, he feels comfortable with the team and its coaching staff. After getting fired from Washington five weeks into the season, the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator had time to reflect, beat himself up a bit, and get right back at it to compete again.
“I wish we could do it more face-to-face, but we are getting things done that we need to get done and it’s been fun so far,” the coach said of his offensive coaching staff.
Among various topics, Gruden spoke on the team’s ability to teach a brand-new offense to players without the ability to physically play on the field, something he believes is “a little difficult”.
“It’s one thing to install plays on a chalk board and virtual meetings getting to know the concepts and all that stuff, but it’s another thing to go out and execute and see what we’re good at, to see what guy can do.”
Due to the on-going pandemic caused by the coronavirus, there has been no in-person activities as far as practices goes for players or coaches. With everything virtual, it has been hard for teams to figure out where to best put players, however, Gruden feels he already has an early idea of just how he might be able to use the offensive weapons he will be getting.
“I know receiver Dede [Westbrook] played in the slot. We drafted Laviska [Shenault], we’ll see what he can do outside and inside. I’d like to move some of the other receivers around a little bit, Chris [Conley] and DJ [Chark], see what happens. Then, you know you get Chris Thompson for some of the backfield stuff but seeing [Ryquell Armstead] and obviously Leonard [Fournette] do some stuff out of the backfield.”
There will be a wealth of options for Gruden and his quarterback, Gardner Minshew II entering this season. Having a coordinator with the ability to adapt to his personnel, instead of the other way around, will likely be a welcome change to Jacksonville.
Here are three takeaways from today’s virtual conference call with Gruden:
1. The tight end position will be featured
The position that has received perhaps the most backlash over the past several seasons with the Jaguars, besides quarterback, has been the tight end position. Last season, several tight ends for the team went down due to injury, including rookie tight end Josh Oliver, who will hope to see the field more than a couple of games this season.
Gruden has worked with great tight ends in the past in former Washington tight ends Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed. Creating a mismatch at the position can change an offense completely. Without those athletic tight ends on the field, it gets to become a challenge for the offense.
“You can double receivers all you want to,” said Gruden. “it’s hard to double tight ends and tight ends really are a key component down there in the red zone and on third down, and they’re a quarterback’s best friend. You know, the passes don’t have to be 25 yards down the field. They can be option routes, choice routes, inbreaking routes, you know, quicker type element passes if you have that tight end.”
The Jaguars struggled to get anything going in the middle of the field last season, partially because of how little play the team was able to get out of players such as Oliver and O’Shaughnessy. With the addition of Tyler Eifert, Gruden will have a player who he knows can do the things that’s needed for the offense to succeed this season.
“He’s done that,” Gruden said of Eifert. “He’s run the option route with a fly, he’s lined up outside. He makes the defense show their hand a little bit. Who’s covering him? If it’s man to man, the safety’s got him, you know. So, the quarterback knows if this is man to man, I know where to go with the football. We can work a matchup either to DJ [Chark Jr.], or Chris [Conley], or Dede [Westbrook], or even Tyler [Eifert], or the running back. So, having a tight end is critical.”
2. Gardner Minshew II continues to impress
The key to the Jaguars offense this season will be the play at the quarterback position, specifically with Minshew. Although he’s yet to see him in person to get face-to-face coaching, Gruden is impressed with his body of work, adding yet another person to offer compliments to the way the second-year quarterback has carried himself.
The offensive coordinator and a team’s quarterback go hand-in-hand. The two are tied at the hip and while Gruden hasn’t been able to physically see Minshew yet, he believes the two will get along just fine. “I’m pretty easy to get along with I know he is to I think will be a great relationship between the two of us,” he said.
Gruden noted that he liked the quarterback coming out of college at Washington State, also noting he played for multiple colleges and had success.
“He’s a shining reason why, once that opportunity truly presents itself you take advantage of it,” Gruden said when talking about Minshew and the limited opportunities one gets in the NFL, “he’s put himself in a great position to take the Jacksonville Jaguars and lead them into the future. He has shown a skillset where he can sit in a pocket, step up, make things happen outside the pocket. He’s accurate, he’s tough and obviously he’s a great leader so he’s got the intangibles you want in a quarterback.
“Now he’s got to get to know the team, get to know the offense a little bit so we can all gel together.”
3. DJ Chark Jr. will move around... a lot
One player that has already impressed Gruden appears to be Pro Bowl wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. Chark, entering his third season with the team had a breakout year last season after accumulating 73 receptions for 1008 yards, and eight touchdowns. Gruden says Chark is “playing with a load of confidence” right now and he would like to move Chark around a little bit more, perhaps playing the star wideout in the slot.
“He’s got a skill set with the size, speed to be able to come in and out of cuts. I think we could do a little bit more with him,” Gruden said when asked about Chark. “I’d like to get them inside a little bit, do some more things with him in the slot. But he’s an excellent specimen. And the thing that I have come to know about DJ in the limited time I got to meet him was that he’s hungry. He wants to be great and when you have the athletic qualities that he has and then the desire to be great, he’s going to have a very bright future.”
In 2019, Chark played primarily outside opposite of veteran wide receiver Chris Conley with Dede Westbrook manning the inside. Now, it appears Gruden will shake the offensive formations up some in order to take advantage of the size mismatch that Chark presents to opposing defense.
Bonus: Jay Gruden is bullish on right tackle Jawaan Taylor
When asked about Taylor, Gruden gave his offensive lineman glowing remarks, calling him “one of the best right tackles, athletically, in the game” right now. As a rookie, Taylor started all 16 games for the Jaguars in 2019, and continued to impress coaches more as the season moved along, his best games coming in week 15 against the Oakland Raiders, and week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons.
“He’s long, he’s athletic and he plays with the tenacity that you love from the tackle. So I was very - I’m very excited to get to work with them at right tackle,” said Gruden when asked about Taylor. “He can run, he can pull, he can get out there on screens, he’s physical in the running game and he can pass protect, he’s got great feet. He’s got every quality that you want in an offensive tackle and the more experience he gets and handing some of the movement up front, the better he’s going to be.”