The 2023 season is finally upon us, and coach Doug Pederson and his team are ready to get things underway.
“I feel like the guys have had a good week of preparation,” Pederson said at his Friday press conference. “(It is) the first time the starters have gotten the bulk of the work.”
Pederson said his team is focused and relaxed heading into Indianapolis. The coach said his team’s demeanor is a positive reflection of himself and his overall attitude.
“If I’m calm, they will be calm,” Pederson said. “It is a mature group. It doesn’t surprise me that they are relaxed and focused.”
Ahead of the Colts game, Pederson was asked about a few key players who will look to have big games.
On defense, Pederson said that second-year SAM linebacker Travon Walker is progressing into the star the team hopes him to be.
“Travon is headed in the right direction,” Pederson said. “He has made really steady progress each day, each week. Every time he steps on the field he is continuing to work on his craft.”
As for the back end of the defense, Pederson said that third-year safety Andre Cisco is probably at the best form of his young career.
“He came back this spring with a lot of confidence,” Pederson said of Cisco. “We know he is going to be around the football. He seems to find it. We just have to make sure he catches it when it comes his way. He is a great leader, not only for the defense but for the team as well.”
Offensively, the offseason has been dominated by the talk about Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley.
While rightfully so, Pederson said third-year running back Travis Etienne gets lost in the shuffle, even after rushing for over 1,000 yards last year.
“He is a great player,” Pederson said of Etienne. “He is in a really good place. What he has worked on this offseason and in training camp has helped him to be a good running back. We are excited to watch him play and see where he picks up where he left off.”
Etienne has said multiple times this offseason that he enjoys the running back room the team has assembled around him.
The Jags drafted Tank Bigsby in the third round, acquired D’Ernest Johnson in free agency, and also still have veteran JaMycal Hasty.
The combined leadership and competition have been extremely helpful for younger players like Etienne and Bigsby.
“It has been good for Tank,” Pederson said of the running back room. “They have all have been very good for Tank and (Etienne). (Etienne) is the leader of that room.”
As for Ridley, he has been as good as advertised.
“The speed is real. The explosion is real. The ability to catch the football is real,” Pederson said.
Sunday’s game will be the first for Ridley in two seasons. When the team first got the receiver out on the field, Pederson said things were going a little bit too fast for the former All-Pro.
“I think early on, when we first got him, we had to pump the brakes with him a little bit,” Pederson said. “He has really settled into his role. I don’t feel like he is pressing as much. I am excited for him. It is great to see him back out on the football field.”
The offensive line added fourth-year guard Ben Bartch back into the fold, after Bartch recovered from injury. Bartch has played in 33 games in his career with 17 starts. The Jaguars will look to him to make a considerable impact this season.
“He is ready to go,” Pederson said. “Excited for him. It is a great opportunity for him to get back in there with the starting five.”
It is no secret the Jaguars’ offense is primed to score points. Pederson wants their point total to be at, or north of, 27 points per game. While that is probably not realistic for every game, it is at least the standard the team wants to try and achieve.
“You hope to,” Pederson said of scoring almost 30 per contest. “You just have to play sound football. Each phase has got to do their part. It is a process. It is a journey. It is a matter of how you approach each week.”
Sunday’s game will be the first time the Jaguars starters get to play extended time together.
To defeat the Colts, and garner wins throughout the rest of the year, the Jags must play within themselves.
“Our biggest thing is that we can’t beat ourselves,” Pederson said. “You just have to stay focused on you and what you are doing. Our team has heard that enough now that they are speaking that same language in the locker room.”