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Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson talks NFL Draft, continuity, Trevor Lawrence and more at NFL Combine

NFL Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson spoke to the media earlier this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Pederson covered a variety of topics, including quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, running back Travis Etienne Jr., staffing changes, impending free agents, the NFL Draft and more.

Here is what Pederson had to say:

Recent staffing changes

Pederson was asked on a couple of different occasions about the hiring of new wide receivers coach Chad Hall, who joined the team in February. Hall was formerly with the Buffalo Bills, and had a prior relationship with Pederson.

“Chad was kind of a free agent,” Pederson said about Hall. “I actually got a chance to coach him when I was an assistant coach in Philadelphia. He played the (wide receiver) position, he knows it, he’s got a great mindset, he’s energetic, he’s a great teacher. Those are all kind of the traits you look for in assistant coaches, and he was the top guy on my list.

“He’s coached some really good (receivers), (Buffalo Bills wide receiver) Stefon Diggs, some great players, obviously, so we’re excited. When he became available, he was definitely the guy I wanted to get.”

Can Jacksonville build off of its promising 2022 season?

The Jaguars surprised just about everybody in Pederson’s first year as head coach in 2022. After the franchise finished in last place in the AFC South four years in a row from 2018 through 2021, Jacksonville not only won the division this past season, but also won an NFL playoff game in dramatic fashion against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Now the question for Pederson and his team is how can the Jaguars continue to build on that success in 2023? Pederson likes where his team stands, but he knows it’s not easy to sustain success in the NFL.

“I think momentum can carry you, but every year is different,” Pederson said. “All 32 teams are starting over. Everybody is 0-0. We’re trying to build the best roster, just like the 31 other teams right now. We can learn from what we did, especially the second half of our season. I feel like we’ve got the right guys, the right makeup, the chemistry, the locker room is solid. Those are the things you build on. That’s the momentum you’re talking about with those guys right there, and guys that have been in Jacksonville, and they’ve kind of gone through some tough times. Now, this past year, they got on the other side of that. That’s the challenge now of keeping that rolling as we head into ’23.”

Jacksonville will return many of its players from the 2022 season and will look to bolster the roster throughout the offseason. The Jaguars will likely head into the 2023 season as the favorite to win the AFC South, and Pederson and his players know they have a good chance to do so, but nothing is guaranteed and the Jaguars will have to work for it. This time around, the pressure will be on the Jaguars.

“You definitely want them to think that way (that we are the team to beat in the AFC South),” Pederson said about his players. “I want them to feel that kind of pressure where you have to perform week in and week out. This past year, we were just playing to win a game, then ultimately, we found ourselves winning more games at the end of the season, putting ourselves in a position to win the AFC South. But now, those are the expectations that I as the head coach expect our football team to have, and that will start April 17 when we start our offseason program.”

Pederson also spoke about the importance of continuity on the team, and being able to bring back as many guys from last year’s team as possible. While Jacksonville won’t be able to bring all of its free agents back, and will add some new faces during the offseason, Pederson wants to keep a lot of familiar faces in the building.

“I think it’s everything,” Pederson said on the importance of continuity on the team. “You try to keep your core together. You try to sign as many of your free agent players as you can. This business — you’re going to lose some, we know that — we try to sign them all if you can. We’ve got some talented guys that we’d like to have back, but we’ll wait and see, see how the process plays itself out. I think the difference for us is these are really good players we’d like to have back, then you build through this process. You build through the draft and just add depth and talent that way.”

It was a process for the Jaguars this past season. The Jaguars started 2-1 before then losing five games in a row, and eventually closing the regular season out with a five-game winning streak, followed by a playoff victory.

Pederson wants to build on the team’s success in 2022, and also talked about bringing Jacksonville’s offense to the next level in 2023.

“There were a lot of things that clicked, it wasn’t easy,” Pederson said about the offense in 2022. “Early in the season, we kind of struggled, we had some miscues in the red zone. (Quarterback) Trevor (Lawrence) wasn’t as polished as he was in the back half of the season, but that’s one of the things as coaches, we have to take the good, and we’ve got to build on that. That’s what we’re doing now in the offseason as a staff is looking at all our positive plays and things we did well, whether it’s run or pass, and then making them better for ’23. Then again, we get to implement that stuff in the offseason program coming in mid-April, then ultimately in training camp.”

When will wide receiver Calvin Ridley join the team?

The Jaguars traded with the Atlanta Falcons for suspended wide receiver Calvin Ridley at the 2022 trade deadline in November.

Ridley, who missed the entire 2022 season after betting on NFL games, applied for reinstatement with the league last month, but Jacksonville still doesn’t know when he will be allowed to join the team.

“We really don’t (know when Ridley will be reinstated), no,” Pederson said. “We really don’t. It’s in the league’s hands, but we’re just waiting for that day.”

Pederson mentioned that he doesn’t quite know what Ridley will bring to the table for Jacksonville’s offense since he hasn’t been able to evaluate him yet, but he knows what Ridley has done in the past is excited to find out what he can do for the Jaguars.

“He hasn’t been cleared yet,” Pederson reiterated when asked about Ridley. “I’m just waiting for that day, anticipating the day that he’s cleared by the NFL. We’re looking forward to that day. I can only go off of what I’ve seen on film — he’s excitable, he’s a top receiver in this league when he’s on his game. I’m excited when that day comes that we can embrace him onto our team, and he gives us just another weapon, potentially, for (quarterback) Trevor (Lawrence).”

Trevor Lawrence’s ascension

Trevor Lawrence bounced back from a disastrous rookie season in 2021 and showed everybody why he is Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback. In 2022, Lawrence completed 66.3 percent of his passes and threw for 4,133 yards with 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He also rushed for five touchdowns.

After leading Jacksonville to its first division title since 2017, and a playoff victory, what is the next step for Lawrence? According to Pederson, it is becoming an even better leader.

“I think the next step for Trevor is just another step in the leadership role,” Pederson said. “Last year was probably about learning a new offense, learning to play this game, learning a bunch of different aspects of playing quarterback in the National Football League, and we just build on that. That’s the next step. That’s the challenge for him.

“As great as he was (in 2022), and as good as he was at the end of the year, he can be better. That’s the challenge that we’ll have for him when he gets back in in April. I know that will be the challenge that he will put on himself to play and be a better version of himself moving forward.”

Pederson also praised backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, whom the Jaguars recently signed to an extension. The head coach said that Beathard is the “perfect guy” for Lawrence because of his veteran presence and experience, and helps Lawrence get better.

What will the Jaguars do in the 2023 NFL Draft?

The Miami Dolphins were forced to forfeit the team’s first-round picks this season after an investigation revealed the team tampered with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. Due to this, the Jaguars move up one slot in the 2023 NFL Draft and will actually pick 24th overall.

Selecting later in the first round means that the Jaguars will have to wait and see who is on the board at that pick. However, Pederson mentioned that if there is a guy the team wants who may not be expected to stick around, the Jaguars would consider moving up to get that player. However, Pederson also noted the Jaguars would be content sitting at No. 24 and seeing what happens as well.

“The draft is a funny thing,” Pederson said. “We’re fortunate to be down at (pick number) 24 this year, and you just play the waiting game. Obviously, if there’s a player ahead of us that you may want to grab, you try to make a move to grab that player, but a lot of times, when you’re in the bottom third of the draft, you just wait and sit. Maybe there are teams that want to come up, and maybe you can gain more capital, draft capital, as you sit there at 24. A lot of options, and hopefully the player that we target is sitting at 24, and we take him.”

Pederson mentioned that this year’s draft class has a lot of talent. The NFL Combine gives the coaching staff a first look into what the class has to offer, but there is still a lot of evaluating and work to do for Pederson and company.

“Every draft class, every year is different,” Pederson said. “For us as coaches, this is the first time, too, that we get the chance to see these guys because we just finished our season about a month ago, so we’re getting our first look at a lot of these guys. There’s some talent in this year’s class. That’s the whole process, it’s coaching and scouting coming together and really having some great conversations. You’ve got to watch the film, got to watch the tape and make great evaluations and prepare yourself for the upcoming draft.”

On running back Travis Etienne

After missing his entire rookie season in 2021 with a foot injury, Etienne quickly became the Jaguars’ top option at running back in 2022, which allowed the team to trade fellow running back James Robinson to the New York Jets.

Etienne played in all 17 games in 2022, and rushed 220 times for 1,125 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He also recorded 35 receptions for 316 yards. Pederson was impressed with Etienne’s game this past season.

“I think the biggest thing for me was, I loved his toughness, his physicality,” Pederson said about Etienne. “He’s not a big guy, but he’s very physical when he runs. He can be elusive. He’s got good speed, and he’s just going to get better as a runner. When he gets a chance to go back and watch what he did last year in our system, there’s going to be times where he’s going to go, ‘Ah, I should’ve hit it here.’ That’s the growth mentality that he’ll have.

“(I’m) just excited for (Etienne), getting him back in our system again, second year, to watch the growth in him, and really, (I liked) how he bounced back from that injury in year one in the foot to be a really good impact player for us on offense.”

On how the 2022 rookies can take a step forward in 2023

Pederson was also asked about 2022 first-round picks Travon Walker (outside linebacker) and Devin Lloyd (inside linebacker) and what they need to do to make a second-year leap. Pederson also included center Luke Fortner and linebacker Chad Muma, fellow 2022 rookies, in his answer.

“I think the biggest thing for both of those players (Walker and Lloyd), Chad (Muma) and Luke (Fortner), you throw those guys in the mix, is the fact that they’re finally going to have an offseason to themselves,” Pederson said. “They can rest, they can heal, they can begin to go back and watch their performances within the defense.

“I think all three of those guys, all four of those guys, put Luke in there, too, they’re going to be so much better this year from the standpoint of knowing, understanding the game, how it has to be played, how it has to be practiced during the week, how to be a pro, how to study, how to take care of your body. I think those are all aspects of becoming a professional football player, and so all of those guys, that’s what they’re going to take away, and that’s what they can lean on moving on to ’23.”