Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson met with the media Wednesday for his first regular season press conference of the year, with his team just days away from opening its season on the road against the Indianapolis Colts.
While opening at a rival stadium, against a team the Jaguars went 1-1 against last year may be intimidating for some, Pederson said his team is ready for the challenge.
“There is a lot of maturity on this team,” Pederson said. “That is what puts this team at a different level. So many of our young players have played a lot of football. There is not a lot that phases this group. It has always been the next man up, and this team doesn’t seem to waver.”
The Jaguars remained relatively healthy through the offseason and training camp, but there are still some players getting over injuries ahead of Sunday.
Rookie defensive back Antonio Johnson (hamstring) is “still kind of a week or two away” according to Pederson.
Rookie defensive lineman Tyler Lacy (hip) is currently being monitored and Pederson said he is waiting to see where Lacy is.
Offensive lineman Tyler Shatley (Afib) was cleared and is practicing.
The Jaguars will also be adding defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi (heel) to the fold, as the veteran is “back” and “feels good” according to Pederson. Fatukasi was “incorporated back in practice” on Wednesday, and likely will be part of a broader rotation that will be filling in for the injured Da’Von Hamilton.
The defense for the Jags will have its work cut out for them though, as they get ready to face rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Pederson said the big body and play style of Richardson reminds him of the 2015 NFL MVP.
“When you think of him, you think of Cam Newton,” Pederson said. “It is a challenge. It is a quarterback that can break arm tackles and run for 15, 20, 30 yards. We have to stay disciplined.”
Richardson has very limited tape from the preseason— throwing only 29 passes and completing 13— so Pederson said he and his staff have had to get creative when researching the rookie quarterback.
It is no secret that Richardson likes to use his legs, rushing for over 650 yards and nine scores last year, so the team has been watching tape of Richardson at the University of Florida.
“You definitely go back and watch (college tape) just to see who he is and how he operates,” Pederson said. “Just see how these different QB runs can affect a game.”
The Colts are almost certain to implement a run-pass option system into their offense to help Richardson excel early.
RPO plays are typically extremely hard on linebackers, as Pederson said you “can’t be right” when it comes to trying to pick who to defend.
The defense in turn will have to be extremely disciplined to keep the mystery Colts offense at bay for four quarters.
“It takes a lot of discipline,” Pederson said of defending the RPO. “It is reactionary, but at the same time you have to be patient. It comes down to film study and how your opponent is trying to attack you.”
The Colts are also debuting rookie head coach Shane Steichen, formerly the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2021-22.
Steichen famously helped quarterback Jalen Hurts achieve his success, and is assumed to be building Richardson in the same mold.
When asked if a team can even prepare for a new coach, a new quarterback and a new offense, Pederson said it boils down to history.
“You can prepare for that,” Pederson said. “It all comes down to film study. We know Gus Bradley on defense. It is the offensive side that might look a little different. But I think you can prepare by going back and understanding the history of the coaches.”
History has not treated the Jaguars well when it comes to traveling to Indianapolis.
The Colts have won five of the last six games against the Jags at home, and nine of the last 10.
Last season, the Jaguars gave up a touchdown in the final seconds of the game to drop to the Colts 34-27.
“We didn’t handle the road great last year,” Pederson said. “We didn’t handle this team on the road great last year. We have our work cut out for us.”
In happier news, the team announced its captains on Tuesday ahead of the season opener, with some familiar faces and some surprises.
Trevor Lawrence, Foye Oluokon, Brandon Scherff, Roy Robertson-Harris and Andrew Wingard were all named team captains.
Pederson said he does not partake in the voting, instead letting the players decide.
“I let the team speak,” Pederson said. “I stay out of it.”
Lawrence and Oluokon were two of the top vote-getters. Scherff, a multiple-time captain throughout his career, was assumedly named due to his veteran status.
Robertson-Harris is “kind of new” to the captain role according to Pederson, but the honor reflects his leadership.
Wingard was someone fans probably did not expect to see, but Pederson said it was due to the safety’s evolution through his tenure with the team.
“It goes without saying that he is the leader on special teams,” Pederson said of Wingard. “It just shows his growth and maturity and where he is as a player with this team. There are always one or two guys that emerge as captains and (Wingard) has obviously done some really good things to be in this position.”
Nothing has been won yet during the Jaguars’ 2023 campaign. Pederson said his team met his expectations, but did not exceed them, heading into the season.
The work starts on Sunday, and the team cannot let the hype get too large.
“The expectations for us are we have to continue to prepare and stay in the moment,” Pederson said.