This story was originally published by Demetrius Harvey via LockedOnJaguars.com on Sept. 10, 2019. We are re-publishing it now as a time-capsule piece for SB Nation’s Big Cat Country. The only altercations are grammatical in nature:
When the Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off their 2019 season, most of the country was watching as $88 million dollar man, Nick Foles, took over the franchise.
All the optimism, enthusiasm, and excitement in the air was quickly sucked out of the stadium within 20 plays. On a third-and-eight, Foles threw a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass to Jaguars receiver DJ Chark Jr.
The touchdown would come with a cost – the ultimate cost – as Foles was hit and subsequently landed on by Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones. The hit would knock Foles out of the game, and ultimately the Jaguars were forced to place him on short-term injured reserve, as he broke his left clavicle.
Enter Jaguars sixth-round quarterback Gardner Minshew II.
Fights, distractions, penalties, and an overall lack of discipline ultimately were the three obstacles which cost the Jaguars the game on Sunday.
Now, a 23-year old quarterback who nearly retired from football in 2017 after hopping around small schools, and ultimately graduating before going to Washington State, is in charge and set to lead a team which many fears is leaderless without Foles at the helm.
Minshew made his own mark on the game on Sunday after completing 22/25 (88%) of his passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The rookie was also nominated this week for the Pepsi’s NFL Rookie of the Week.
Minshew broke the record for the highest completion percentage for any player in NFL history with at least 15 passing attempts in his playing debut.
This isn’t the first time the rookie has broken records in his football career.
Playing in an Air-Raid offense at Washington State in 2018, Minshew would break several records. He led Washington State to a record-setting 11-win season, took home the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the year award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Minshew also led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (70.7%), passing yards, and passing touchdowns.
There are many questions surrounding this team, but one of the most glaring is: can Minshew actually lead this team to victories in Foles’ stead?
At least one person believes Minshew can lead the team. And that’s his former college head football coach at Washington State, Mike Leach — the God Father of the Air-Raid offense.
“He’s very committed,” Leach told Locked On Jaguars in a phone interview when asked if Minshew was ready to play.
“I think he’ll be more ready down the road, but I also think he’s a great player. [There are] guys elsewhere in the league that aren’t as ready to play as him – and several won’t ever be. I do think he will be very productive, and I think he’ll do a good job. He’s an incredibly smart guy so he can pick things up quickly.”
While Leach didn’t watch the game on Sunday, he did see some highlights of the young quarterback. Leach says he thought Minshew played well, although he wishes he would have broken the consecutive completions record.
With Minshew set to replace a $100M quarterback, Leach says the most important thing for him to do would be to focus on the moment. “Just make plays.”
During the game on Sunday, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone indicated Minshew chose his own plays that he felt most comfortable with running, which can be attributed to his dedication to his craft, football IQ, and preparation.
Leach agrees all these attributes line up with what he saw in the bright-eyed quarterback back in 2018.
“First of all, Gardner is a very sharp guy,” Leach said when asked about Minshew choosing the plays he would feel most comfortable with.
“When you deal with him, it’s like dealing with a partner. You’ll get clear feedback and specifics — I think that parts good but, then I’ll tell [you], the other thing is, from a coaching standpoint you got a rookie first-time starter. You want to run what he’s good at and what he’s comfortable with. And some of these packages are so big, he may not be comfortable with all of it – he’s doing it without a lot of NFL experience”
The Jaguars are going to craft an offense which Minshew is most comfortable with. On Sunday, his accuracy, decision making, and play-making ability were on display. His completion percentage is already noted, however at least one of the throws Minshew had during the contest goes beyond his years.
Leach sang his praises when discussing where Minshew excels as a passer. Mentioning his ability to never take negative plays, and his ability to make something out of nothing. Essentially, making something positive without putting the team in jeopardy.
However, given that Minshew is a young quarterback, trying to make his mark in the NFL, a fair question would be regarding his ability to read the field. Most young quarterbacks have one or two reads and then either run or throw the ball away.
Leach does not believe that is accurate for the Jaguars young signal-caller.
“He’s smart at reading the field,” Leach said. “You know, he’s not one of those guys that you just go out there and say ‘look here and look here and then eat the ball’. I mean, he can read the (entire) field. And that alone puts him ahead of a lot of NFL quarterbacks, some of them with several years of experience.”
As a young quarterback, if you can see the field, it opens a host of options within the playbook. For example, at one point during the game, Minshew broke the huddle in a sort of wing-t formation. After getting the to the line-of-scrimmage he barked the calls for the offense to get into their final formation.
Minshew went through each progression one by one until he found Jaguars tight end James O’Shaughnessy for a seven-yard gain.
Although this leads to a fourth down, it shows the maturity and illustrates his ability, as Leach says, to never take negative plays, and read the field. The Jaguars needed some sort of score at that point in the game, and Minshew taking what the defense gave him shows growth and maturity.
Overcoming adversity was Minshew’s forte at Washington State. During the year, the Cougars had numerous comebacks. When asked about a time in which Minshew was able to overcome adversity, Leach said “We had one come back, after the next, after the next. It would almost be easier for me to tell you when he didn’t.”
In order to figure out which games stood out the most, one would have to see the schedule and go through it game by game. After a brief pause in the conversation, Leach quipped “See what our schedule was last year.”
And so, we did.
“Well, Wyoming, which is a very tough place to play. They had a very formidable defense – he struggled the first half, it was the first time he played for us, he had a good second half. Okay, who did we play after that?”
San Jose State.
“Okay after that”
“Okay who after that?”
The University of Southern California.
“Kind of a controversial drive at the end of that. I wanna stay out of trouble on commenting on that. Although, I do have some definite thoughts that may be in a book sometime.”
“Okay, Utah! Total war. Total war. And they’re the most physical team in our conference. Strong, brutally physical. Half their defense goes into the NFL every year. It’s back and forth all game. Our last drive, we’re on the minus 10, so we come back with very little time left. So that was kinda [a] last drive.”
Against Utah, Minshew threw a game-winning 89-yard touchdown pass to put the Cougars up 28-24 with around four minutes remaining, illustrating the ice in his veins.
“Oregon, back and forth game, [the] first time Washington State has ever been on game day. Against the most vaunted quarterback in our conference. You know, total war until we broke it open.”
“Last drive. Drives it down. We have one drive. You can look up how much time – 56 seconds or something. So, we go storming down there, kick the game-winning field goal. So he led that drive.”
Minshew would go three of five for 51 yards passing in the final drive against Stanford leading to the game-winning field goal with 19 seconds left on the clock.
“Yeah, that was kinda a back and forth, kinda a defensive struggle.”
What about Iowa State?
“That was a back and forth game, they had a really good defense. Their running back got drafted. The receiver got drafted. They had a good quarterback. And then we had a deal where we had to control the ball and take a bunch of time off the clock against that defense, that was kind of impressive. [Gardner] did great, he had a ton of presence.”
Against Iowa State in the ball control situation, Minshew displayed his accuracy and ability to adapt his timing, recording 35 completions for 299 yards and two touchdowns.
Leading the team through multiple comebacks throughout the year was in Minshew’s genes.
On several occasions, the mustache-wearing quarterback from Mississippi has been characterized as being “fearless”. Coach Leach has said it, and most recently, Chark and Jaguars offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor have attributed the quarterback to being fearless as well.
“I just think he’s really committed,” Leach responded when asked what makes him so fearless.
“I think he wants it so bad, and he’s committed and dedicated to the point, that he doesn’t let anything stand in the way. And if you have an attitude like that then you know, you don’t let things stand in the way.”
To be a fearless leader as Minshew was at Washington state is exactly what the Jaguars hope they can find in the coming weeks. A leader who will grab the reins and take the team the distance.
Leach has always been impressed with how Minshew would elevate the other players around him at Washington state. How he was able to generate a calmness around him and from within the team.
The greatest testament to Minshew’s leadership starts at the beginning of his tenure at Washington State in 2018. The assumed starting quarterback, Tyler Hilinski, unfortunately, passed away earlier in the year, and Minshew was ultimately set to take on the starting role after former Washington State quarterback Luke Falk entered the NFL draft.
“The biggest thing is – and he did it quickly — but, he was able to integrate himself with that whole locker room in a fashion that was really impressive. He became one of those guys in that locker room – and a leader – within literally a month.”
In a way that is what the rookie quarterback will need to do in Jacksonville over the coming weeks. He will need to quickly become the guy in the locker room. He will need to be able to lead, not only the offense but the entire team as the starting quarterback.
While Minshew has a ton of work to do in the short time he has to integrate himself, winning over the fans, players, and coaches this coming weekend against Houston would be a fantastic start. His old ball coach certainly believes he’s capable.
“I think he’ll do a good job.”