You can feel the difference.
Game Week is finally here for the Jacksonville Jaguars, with last Wednesday’s roster cuts announcing the end of a long offseason. This franchise and its fans are ready for real football, and there’s definitely an edge in the air as the team prepares for the trip to Indianapolis on Sunday.
Monday’s press conference saw wide receiver Christian Kirk and linebacker Foye Oluokun take to the podium. Understandably, all eyes were on the team’s upcoming opponents - in particular their rookie quarterback. Oluokun was asked about the challenges of squaring off against Colts’ QB Anthony Richardson, and how the team is planning to mitigate his dual-threat game:
“We know that so far in preseason, it seems like he likes to get out and run, especially when plays break down. So make sure we have eyes on him and when he breaks the pocket, be able to keep running our feet through contact as if he’s a runner. A lot of times people might give up on a play early for the running quarterback, but just staying on your feet when he pump fakes if he does, be able to break down his stiff arm when he escapes the pocket. Just really treating him like a runner when he’s running outside the pocket with the ball in his hands.”
Preseason notwithstanding, Richardson presents something of an unknown for this Jaguars defense. Oluokun acknowledged that his unit will have to be prepared for anything - and be ready to exploit any opportunity that arises:
“I’m sure as the game goes on or the coaches scout him, we’ll try to see what a flaw might be. A lot of times, you get a rookie guy, he’s confusing with looks, maybe bringing some pressure from where it looks like it’s coming, see if we can pick up on that. Obviously, he has great talent running the ball as well, he has a strong arm. We’ll see how to combat that as the game goes on or going into the game. We got to see through film study and through experience as the game goes on what we can attack him with.”
With Richardson listed at 6’4” and 244 lbs, Oluokon finds himself in the unusual situation of going up against a quarterback bigger in stature than he is. The prospect didn’t seem to faze the sixth-year linebacker in the slightest:
“When push comes to shove and somebody has the ball in their hands, you just try to get them down. I know he’s big, I know he’s fast and explosive, it’s just the mentality. As soon as somebody gets the ball in their hands, you just got to attack them. I’m sure I’ve tackled people bigger than me before.”
“They said we’re Super Bowl contenders?”— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) September 4, 2023
Come for #Jaguars LB Foye Oluokun finding out the team is expected to be good. Stay for the media argument about Peter King’s column: pic.twitter.com/Jmt9qLVdGA
Oluokun’s confidence ahead of Sunday’s game isn’t just shared by Vegas, but by the rest of the defense too. He was genuinely surprised to learn that the Jaguars were touted as Super Bowl candidates in some quarters - but he’s happy to keep the receipts on anyone who still thinks otherwise:
“Oh really? I was still stuck on they don’t think we’re top-tier. I didn’t know they gave us Super Bowl contenders. I’m already fueled to prove what we can be.”
Kirk Comfortable, Relishing The Colts Challenge
Much like teammate Foye Oluokun, Christian Kirk appeared calm but laser-focused as he addressed the media on Monday. The receiver was asked a lot of questions about how the offense has changed since this time last year. Whilst he didn’t allow himself to get over-excited, he acknowledged a greater level of comfort throughout the unit:
“I would say there’s some similarities, but it’s different in a sense of just the way that we operate. You just feel the efficiency, the effectiveness and everybody is on the same page. We talked about it a lot this offseason of being able to see tons of different looks and reps and being able to get time on task. Having a full season in this system, you come in now and it’s like you know it like the back of your hand. You know you can get; you know what works and what doesn’t work. You know what we’re trying to accomplish on each and every play. That’s a big part. You may have a route and a concept that you may think is a route that you try to get somebody else open, or you’re trying to do one thing, but it really has a great impact on what you’re trying to accomplish. I think for all of us, we got more of a grasp on what we like to do and what we’re good at.”
One of the reasons for the improved cohesiveness on offense has been attributed to the growth of Trevor Lawrence. For Kirk, his faith in his quarterback’s abilities was never in doubt:
“I think he’s played at a high level for a long time. I know early on last year, his second year in the league, there’s definitely some learning curves but I still think he was playing at a high level. It was more of us coming together as a team and learning how to play together. He’s progressively getting better, but I wouldn’t say that there’s a drastic difference in his level of play.”
Kirk did allow himself a moment to appreciate where he finds himself as he enters his sixth season in the NFL. His humble response to being given a chance in Jacksonville - and what he thinks this team can achieve - is something that is far from guaranteed in a professional footballer’s career:
“It kind of gives me chills to think about it because it’s changed my whole entire career. I never take it for granted and every time I talk to Trent [Baalke], I always say, ‘Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to come here and be a part of this.’ I never forget or take for granted the opportunity that he’s given me to be able to come here and be a part of this. Just walking around town and talking to fans, not only what they say, ‘Good job on the field, great game’ but when they say like, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for Jacksonville.’ I think that’s the coolest part, because we’re just out there playing a child’s game but the fact that we’re having an impact on the city and the fans and how they feel about us is bigger than football. To be a part of that and to be able to recognize how cool of a time it is to be a Jacksonville Jaguar I think is the most important part. It’s had an everlasting impact on changing the route of my career and my life in general.”
Kirk and Oluokun, both big free agency acquisitions last offseason, look ready to repay the faith that this organization showed with their investment. That begins at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.