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Big Cat Country Q&A: Let’s talk about Urban Meyer with Zach Goodall

25th Outback Bowl - Florida Gators v Penn State Nittany Lions Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

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Let’s answer some Jacksonville Jaguars questions — and more importantly some Urban Meyer questions — ahead of a very important offseason ahead for the team.

We’ve got a special one today — Zach Goodall is answering your questions! Zach is a Big Cat Country alumni and he currently writes for Fan Nation at All Gators, part of the Sports Illustrated network.

Graeme from Paisley, UK

Q: Have you noticed Mike Florio really trying to push the idea that Urban Meyer may want Justin Fields and trade down for him? I get it’s mostly just trying to create content, but it still feels a bit like so many media folk were married to the idea of Trevor Lawrence in New York — well, New Jersey — that they just won’t accept he’s Duval bound. What are the chances Urban doesn’t take Trevor?

A: No, but that sure sounds like something Mike Florio would do. Do yourself a favor and block out all that noise.

I’m a big fan of this quarterback class as a whole and don’t mean to slight the others. In fact, if Jacksonville were to own the No. 2 selection and I was hired as Meyer’s general manager to make the draft picks, I’d take Justin Fields and never look back. But this is the easiest choice in franchise history, even above taking Jalen Ramsey at No. 5 overall by the grace of goodness in 2016. If Meyer and his team decide to pass on Trevor Lawrence in April, the experiment is already over and it gets a failing grade.

Rush from Tampa, FL

Q: All this talk of Urban Meyer as the next coach has me wondering... what is his health assessment? Is it a legitimate concern or are we overreacting?

A: I mean, there’s plenty of reason to be worried about that, I think.

Not often will you see a coach retire due to medical reasons before returning to the sidelines, much less twice and each time within a couple of years. Florida and Ohio State (but mainly Florida) fans share their skepticism as to how real the concerns are given his rather immediate turnarounds, but I do believe those concerns are legitimate. Although they’re treatable, congenital arachnoid brain cysts and spasms are obviously nothing to play around with. I was encouraged to hear that Meyer plans to delegate more work to his assistants than he has in the past, especially as he’ll be spending many long days soaking up the Jacksonville heat throughout training camp and into the season.

This was a swing-for-the-fences type of hire, both on the field given Meyer’s lack of NFL experience and off the field due to his health. You can blame Shad Khan for putting all of his eggs in Meyer’s basket if things don’t turn out well on the gridiron, however, it would be tough for me to blast Khan if Meyer’s career gets cut short due to his health. That’s way more important than a game.

Steven from Orlando, FL

Q: Urban Meyer is known as a defensive coach. Do you think he will give his offensive coordinator autonomy to call plays or do you think he will take that role on himself?

A: He is?

I know Meyer spent his playing time and began his coaching career as a defensive backs and outside linebackers coach, but he’s widely regarded as one of the most innovative offensive minds in football. He’s credited with reimagining the spread offense and designing the run-pass option during his time at Utah, based on a fluke when a wide receiver missed an assignment.

By creating mismatches with a numbers advantage in the run game, Meyer and Dan Mullen’s offense could dictate matchups, motion players around to diagnose coverages, and allow their quarterback to make decisions pre and post-snap to move the ball with maximum efficiency (get used to the word “efficiency”, it’s a regularly-used term in regards to Mullen’s offense at Florida). Sounds simple, but it was a genius realization that every offensive coach in modern football utilizes in some capacity.

With that being said, Mullen was Meyer’s play-caller during their time together, while Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day did the same at Ohio State. It wouldn’t be a surprise if position coaches even have some say-so when it comes to play-calling as Meyer is big on groupthink and effort. In fact, Mullen shared before the 2019 season that Florida had five assistants who could call plays and that three members of his staff already had during his first year as UF’s head coach, which is something to keep in mind.

Shane from Jacksonville, FL

Q: From Urban Meyer’s history, what kind of defense do you think he’s most comfortable with here in Jacksonville? And which defensive philosophy/scheme do you think this team would be most successful in?

A: I’d expect Meyer to employ a defensive scheme that fits his personnel. Now, isn’t that refreshing to hear?

Meyer will run a 4-3 defense if and when his edge rushers and cornerbacks are the crème de la crème, allowing those defensive ends to widen out to take on tackles one-on-one while trusting the secondary to keep plays in front of them. He has a solid foundation to do so with Josh Allen and C.J. Henderson, but that surely isn’t enough and there is a need for interior pass rush help in order to free up his edge rushers should the Jaguars deploy 4-3 concepts. K’Lavon Chaisson looked much better at the end of his rookie season than at the beginning, but he’s a pretty clear fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker and Meyer will recognize that.

As noted in the video below, Meyer is a fan of blitz packages and eliminating double-team blocks by the offensive line, which can be created with 3-4 looks. Such schemes gave Meyer trouble as Florida’s head coach, particularly in the BCS National Championship against Oklahoma, and he’s since adopted those concepts and integrated them into his defensive play-calls.

“Every year, I would come into our defensive staff room, and they knew it was coming, and I’d say ‘Guys, listen, we’re going to change to a 3-4 defense,’ because I couldn’t stand coaching against that when I was an offensive coach... If you don’t have the $30 million defensive ends or corners, what do you do? Cincinnati and BYU have excellent players, but they fit this scheme. The 3-4 defense is the second way to disrupt an offense.”

I’d genuinely label the future of Jacksonville’s defense as multiple.

Ben from Chicago, IL

Q: Is the “college coach can’t make it” argument misleading? Should we feel confident Urban Meyer can make the transition as well as any non-NFL candidate?

A: Big Cat Country’s internet pal, @E_Dilla, made a great point via Twitter on Monday with regard to the idea of hiring now-former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator...

No one has ever coached at the NFL level until they have.

Schemes might be more complicated and the players are surely more talented in the pros, but NFL teams have copied Meyer’s offensive strategies over the years which tells you everything you need to know. Football is football.

If you feel the need to be concerned over college decision-makers jumping to the NFL, do so with the front office hires. I would think the Jaguars’ next general manager will have NFL experience, but personnel directors and evaluators with little-to-no experience at professional roster-building could present a lack of cap management understanding or draft strategy. You’d hope such hires will have dedicated significant time to understanding the ins and outs of NFL roster management as Meyer claims to have studied over the past year.

Travis from High Springs, FL

Q: When Urban Meyer was coaching at Florida and Ohio State, he always talked about recruiting the fastest team in the country. Do you believe that Urban’s love for speed could cause him to look for another running back? James Robinson is a great back with great vision. But I’ve read his lack of breakaway speed is what caused him to go undrafted.

A: I don’t think Meyer will look to replace James Robinson if that’s what you’re asking: Why would he? The Jaguars’ roster has some talent but not enough to warrant replacing one of its few very-good players.

Although, you’re right about the speed factor. Meyer said in his introductory press conference that he wants to build a fast team, but won’t necessarily target players with the fastest 40-yard dash results. I’d imagine that thought process will be applied to the running back position, with Robinson locked in as next year’s starter while the remainder running back room undergoes a makeover. There will be a speed-back added, I’d assume, and maybe a legitimate power-back to balance out the position with versatile skill-sets.

Speed will be emphasized, though. Florida’s running back room in 2008 consisted of two track stars in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps paired with quarterback Tim Tebow’s physical rushing demeanor, for example. Curtis Samuel, who clocked a 4.31-second 40-yard dash, was a complementary speed-back to Ezekiel Elliott and Mike Weber under Meyer at Ohio State as well.

Brian from Tallahassee, FL

Q: Should we expect the same level of success as Pete Carrol for Urban Meyer coming straight from college?

A: Sure thing. Like I said before, Khan swung for the fences here. Entering his 10th season as the Jaguars’ owner with a 39-105 record to his name and a lot of public scrutinies in his mailbox, the pressure is on to steer this ship in the right direction, right now.

On paper, Meyer seems like a great choice to do that when it comes to college candidates turning pro. He’s a CEO-style coach who has a great track record of building elite programs from the ground-up. But the risks are obvious, and local support for the team will be thrown out the window if this doesn’t work out.

You can follow Zach Goodall on Twitter at @zach_goodall and read all his work at All Gators here.