Following minicamp practice sessions, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made multiple assistant/position coaches available to speak publicly to the media this week. One of those staff members was offensive line coach George Warhop, who spoke on Wednesday.
WATCH LIVE: Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Anthony Schlegel, Passing Game Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, OL Coach George Warhop, DL Coach Tosh Lupoi and TE Coach Tyler Bowen meet with the media during Minicamp presented by @BaptistHealthjx https://t.co/rpWSHwdgLy— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) June 16, 2021
Warhop spoke about the development of some of his players, strength and conditioning, the energy head coach Urban Meyer brings to the organization and more. It was clear from Warhop’s remarks that he is confident in his group, but he also realizes there is plenty of work to do, especially from a consistency perspective and in pass protection.
Jacksonville’s offensive line was decent last season, especially in the run game — the Jaguars ranked 12th in the league with a 4.5 yards per carry average and also ranked 11th in the NFL in Adjusted Line Yards and seventh in Power Success Rate, according to Football Outsiders. However, as mentioned, the unit struggled in pass protection and allowed 44 sacks (tied for seventh-most in the NFL). While some of the sacks were due to the quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long, the Jaguars ranked just 25th in Adjusted Sack Rate (also per Football Outsiders).
While the interior offensive linemen were able to play fairly consistently in 2020, the tackles — Cam Robinson (left tackle) and Jawaan Taylor (right tackle) — had a lot of ups and downs and struggled to perform at a consistently high-level throughout the season. Despite the struggles, both players have flashed plenty of potential in the past, and Robinson — who was franchised-tagged this offseason — and Taylor are still expected to start in 2021.
As far as how the tackles have been working this offseason, Warhop likes what he sees and he wants to see continued development heading into training camp.
“I think they both have done a nice job,” Warhop said of Robinson and Taylor. “You come back, first thing I look at was weight, body weight. They’ve been working it up, both those guys, within what we want from the body weight. Both of those guys’ strength from our offseason program has gone up. When we’ve been out at practice, no issues in terms of conditioning. So, that part of it, it’s evident that they’ve been working. In terms of on-the-field stuff, the stuff we have to get better at, I think both those guys have made strides this offseason. We still have to make more strides coming back into the season.”
The big thing Warhop needs to see from Taylor, a second-round pick out of Florida in 2019, is consistency, particularly in his pass protection. Warhop believes Taylor is strong in the run game, and he feels the unit overall is going to dominate on the ground against the majority of teams the Jaguars play against in 2021. If Taylor is able to take that next step up in pass protection, he could turn into a complete right tackle.
“My biggest issue with Jawaan is just consistency and pass protection,” Warhop said frankly. “In the run game, he’s physical, same with Cam (Robinson). From a run standpoint, I really can’t bitch about any of our guys and how we approach it. I’m of the belief that there (are) very few teams, if we decide that we want to hand a ball off, are going to stop us from running the ball. But where we struggled last year at times was in pass protection. And that’s a technique issue and a consistency issue. And that’s been addressed and will continue to be addressed, those guys know it. It’s something that we’re not shying away from, so it’ll get better.”
In addition to Robinson and Taylor, the Jaguars are expected to go into the 2021 season with the team’s three other starters from 2020 — left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder and right guard A.J. Cann. The Jaguars also return several depth players on the offensive line, such as Tyler Shatley, Ben Bartch and Will Richardson. The one notable addition to the group is rookie Walker Little.
Little was selected out of Stanford by the Jaguars in the second round (No. 45 overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft. He missed the majority of the past two seasons at Stanford due to a season-ending knee injury in 2019 and then opting-out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. The lack of football hasn’t seemed to hurt Little’s playing ability, as Warhop has nothing but high praise thus far for the rookie.
“I’m going to be completely honest with you,” Warhop said. “I’ve had multiple tackles drafted in the first or second round and (Walker Little) came in as prepared or more prepared than any of those guys; in terms of movement skills, in terms of intellect, in terms of communication. We ask guys to do things differently than they do in college, so there’s a learning curve there. But in terms of how he came in, the fact that he didn’t play for two years, you really couldn’t notice that.”
It was really Little’s athleticism that stood out to Warhop. However, his physicality, fluidity, flexibility, size and understanding of the game also caught Warhops’ attention. It’s hard to judge what kind of player Walker will be before the pads come on, but he has impressed so far.
“Well, first of all, Walker, he’s a really good athlete,” Warhop noted. “And of all those guys out there, if you watch him play, he has unbelievable flexibility, he can really bend. He’s a smooth pass blocker, so when you watch his tape, even from his sophomore year and then going into his junior year right before he got hurt, it’s his fluidity of movement. You knew he could come in and that he was going to be an efficient pass blocker. What you didn’t know is how physical he was going to be in the run game because you saw it when he was young, what they were doing at Stanford, but you missed his junior year. And they played Northwestern, I believe the only game he played that year, and he was pretty physical in that game, you just didn’t know where that was when he came in.
“And then once we got him, the thing that’s impressive was the dude is 325 (pounds). At Stanford, I thought he was one of those 315 guys, 312 guys, he’s 325. That’s a big freaking man; and he can move and he can slide his feet. And as long as he continues to grow in pass protection and understands his angles and positions, if he develops, he could bring some competition to those guys. But you won’t ever know that until we get to training camp, we put the pads on and we’re hitting people, (whether he’ll) be consistent day-in and day-out at a high level, to really put pressure on the guys that we have.”
Warhop and his offensive line unit have really taken on Meyer’s “plus-two” mentality — which essentially means when you’re expected to do 10 reps, you do 12, for example. Warhop has always believed in the line of thinking while coaching.
“That’s always been our mindset, anyway,” Warhop said. “I mean, for me, that’s how we want to play, that’s how I like to coach my guys. We want to be down the field, finishing and pass protecting. We want to be physical in the run game, we want to try and diminish the defense over time. So, what Urban (Meyer) is talking about and his philosophy really goes hand-in-hand in how I believe we have to play as an offensive line. We don’t want to be a soft group. When we go play a team, we want them concerned about having to deal with us from a physical standpoint, and that’s his whole mantra.”
Warhop has also noticed a pretty big shift in the energy and atmosphere in the building with Meyer leading the charge. Warhop has been with the team since 2019 and previously worked under Doug Marrone. He has also been an offensive line coach at the NFL level since 1996. Meyer’s “players first” mentality really sticks out for Warhop.
“(Coach Meyer’s approach is) very different,” Warhop said with a laugh. “I’m going to say this, it’s different. His energy is different. His approach, in terms of big picture view, has some similarities to Eric Mangini in terms of how he wants the program to run. The biggest difference, I think, is his ‘players first’ mentality. He’ll do whatever is necessary for the players. That they have the best in the building, that they’re taken care of by the best. And if we’re going to require them to play at a high level, (we) as an organization have to provide for them at a high level. That’s the biggest thing that he brings to the table. He has energy and it’s players first and those guys understand that it’s players first.”