Inside the Jacksonville Jaguars' plan to elevate Trevor Lawrence to superstardom
He's got it all: the arm, the brain, the athleticism. So, how do the Jaguars plan on lifting Lawrence into the class of Mahomes, Allen and Burrow? We sat down with the team's OC, Press Taylor.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The second he heard the analogy, Press Taylor thought it was perfect. Nothing sums up life as an NFL coach quite like this. From Week 1 through Week 18, he says, you’re essentially “living in a submarine.”
Each Monday, you kiss your wife on the cheek, hug your kids, say “See you on Friday” and… get to work.
His wife loves to give him hell, of course. If you spend so much time on a gameplan all week, then why do things take so long on Sunday? Honestly, it’s because coaches are constantly seeking an edge. You never depart that submarine in your mind.
The good news for Taylor this 2022 season is that when he’s submerged, he’s entering an NFL coach’s Utopia. He’s not trying to cobble together gameplans with a limited quarterback, no, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive coordinator has been tasked with developing the No. 1 overall pick of the 2021 draft: Trevor Lawrence. The former Heisman Trophy winner is a dream: 6 foot 6, 220 pounds, rifle arm, athletic, smart, tough with the made-for-Hollywood, wavy blond hair. Last week’s 29-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was rough. But one month in, we’ve seen the signs of a quarterback with true superstar potential. How the Jags are elevating Lawrence to this stratosphere runs in sharp contrast to how the rest of that 2021 class is unfolding, too.
On our recent visit to Jacksonville, Go Long explored how the organization is maximizing its prized possession.
Because as we’ve learned repeatedly, this locomotive can screech one of two sharp directions. Sticking with Urban Meyer as head coach — a leader of men who’d rather get drunken lap dances from a woman younger than his daughter than fly home from Cincinnati with his own team — could’ve ruined one of the greatest gifts this franchise has had in its 28 years of existence. Instead, the Jaguars put on gas masks, removed the disease from the building and are now doing everything in their power to elevate this quarterback into the stratosphere of Mahomes and Allen and Burrow and Lamar. Lawrence has a realistic shot to join this class of quarterbacks by season’s end exactly as his team has a realistic shot at winning the AFC South and taking a Cincinnati Bengals-sized jump to relevancy.
The more you hear how exactly Taylor and head coach Doug Pederson have taken on this project, the more you believe Lawrence is bound to be the next superstar at the position.
There is not such optimism circulating the other quarterbacks taken in his first round. The other four franchises are sweating out their decisions.
No. 2 pick Zach Wilson was underwhelming as a rookie and then tore his meniscus in the preseason. His first game back was a win at Pittsburgh and perhaps he is the Mahomes Lite the New York Jets envision. Unfortunately, the only comparison that seems apt so far is Paul Finch.
No. 3 pick Trey Lance suffered a grisly broken fibula in Week 2. San Francisco is hopeful he finally takes over as the starter in 2023, but consider just how long Lance has gone since he was any team’s starting quarterback for a full season. That’d be 2019… his only full season in college… at FBS North Dakota State. This is an unbelievably critical rehab process considering his legs are such a major part of his game.
No. 11 pick Justin Fields is throwing the ball at a shockingly low rate. His 67 attempts and 34 completions are the least of any quarterback who started the first four games of a season since 2000. Over the same time period, only David Carr has a worse sack rate than Fields (19.3 percent). Yikes.
No. 15 pick Mac Jones won 10 games as a rookie but then the Patriots tabbed Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as the two offensive minds who must take Jones to the next level, a decision that sounds more like the plot of a bad sitcom than reality.
As the player drafted ahead of everyone, Lawrence was universally considered the most talented prospect. But that’s only the start. No quarterback does it alone. Patrick Mahomes needed Andy Reid. Josh Allen needed Brian Daboll and Jordan Palmer. Joe Burrow needed Taylor’s brother, Zac, and Cincy’s treasure trove of offensive weapons. Lamar Jackson needed a team to completely re-think offensive football.
So, here we are sitting here in Press Taylor’s office a few days before Jacksonville’s season opener.
This 34-year-old father of three may be known most as the quality control coach who unearthed “The Philly Special” that sparked the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. He was promoted to quarterbacks coach in Philly (2018), then passing game coordinator (2020), then served as a senior offensive consultant with the Indianapolis Colts in 2021 before being hired as Pederson’s offensive coordinator in Jacksonville this season.
First Taylor acknowledges that — heck yes — this is an ideal spot for a young coach.
The key to developing a young quarterback? Turning the position, he says, into “a lifestyle.”
“Where, like Tom Brady, it’s an obsession to maximize the ability you’ve been given,” Taylor says. “Your skillset. Your craft. It’s on the field, it’s off the field. It’s how you live your life. It’s how you operate in the locker room and how you operate in the meeting room. It’s getting the best out of the people around you. That’s the one thing: There’s not quarterbacks who don’t have great players around them. Now, I think the great ones make those guys even greater. But it’s elevating your supporting cast around you and helping everybody achieve their potential.”
That’s where the Jaguars’ front office supplied the assist. Christian Kirk was signed to a four-year, $72 million deal. Zay Jones inked a three-year, $24 million pact. They found a new tight end in Evan Engram. They identified the brainy, aerospace engineer Luke Fortner as their center of the future and signed one of the best guards in the NFL (Brandon Scherff). Similar to those Bengals, they also added so many new players on defense that the unit has no choice but to drastically improve. The eclectic Foye Oluokun and Utah’s Devin Lloyd each lead the team with 38 tackles apiece. This year’s No. 1 overall pick, Travon Walker, is expected to make other QBs’ lives hell opposite Josh Allen. Darious Williams is a welcomed ballhawk at corner.
The expectation should be the playoffs. To contend. This is a completely different Jaguar team.
Central to everything is Lawrence.
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Few quarterbacks are able to turn the position into such a “lifestyle.” It’s one thing to turn on film and quite another to know exactly what you’re looking for. That’s where Taylor says it’s on the coaches to help Lawrence establish a routine.
“Train him in some way, shape or form of ‘Here’s what we look for, so here’s what we think you should look for,’” he explains. “And then it’s all of us kind of becoming one mind. That’s the biggest thing: Trevor is truly an extension of the coaching staff. He knows why we want to put a play in, what we’re looking for. If it’s not that look, what is he going to do with the football? He’s the guy who makes that decision. It’s on all of us to clearly communicate to him what the intent of the play is. It’s for him to believe it, and it’s on us to sell that vision to everybody as we go.”
At Clemson, this quarterback’s tangible gifts were obvious. He dominated as a freshman, beat ‘Bama in the national title game, never looked back. The final count: 108 total touchdowns, 17 picks, a 39-3 record. Then, he turned pro and went 3-14 in Year 1. We can justifiably blame Meyer all day and all night long, but the NFL game still appeared too fast for Lawrence. He objectively struggled in throwing as many picks in 17 NFL games as he did in 42 college games.
Owner Shahid Khan wisely extracted Meyer out of the organization and hired a proven teacher of the position in Pederson.
The top priority now is to pull those special qualities back out of Lawrence.
Once Taylor started working with the QB, what surprised him most was Lawrence’s quick twitch throwing the ball. “In terms of ‘I need the ball out, and I can get it out,’” he explains. Lawrence is a tall player with long levers and, typically, it takes those quarterbacks a while to get rid of the ball. Lawrence was spitting the ball out. Fast. This conundrum may sound familiar. Hall of Famer Kurt Warner cited long levers as a detriment to Josh Allen’s game two years ago — Allen is similarly built at 6-5, 237 — but, as Palmer explained in our QB Roundtable, the Buffalo Bills’ MVP candidate has quickened his release with more decisive lower-body movements.
Quarterbacks like Blake Bortles and Tim Tebow took the pigskin on an orbit around the sun before releasing which is OK in the college game because players are slower. Those receivers will stay open. Not so much in the NFL, where windows close in a blink. Echoing Palmer, Allen’s private QB coach, Taylor says it’s all about getting the ball to Point A as quick as possible. “Whatever that looks like,” he adds, “and everybody’s going to look a little different.”
Lawrence never needed a full overhaul to his release but slight changes to his mechanics have helped.
Adds Taylor: “He has the arm to throw it to every inch of the field. He can throw the deep ball. He can throw with touch. He can layer throws. He can get it out quickly. So, he has all of those physical tools.”
Against air, everything always looks exactly as it should. But playing the position is far more than completing passes in such a climate-controlled bio-dome. A collapsing pocket. Timing with receivers. Disguised coverages. There are an infinite number of variables that complicate the passing game on Sunday. That’s where Lawrence was when this new Jags staff took over. Lawrence could do just about anything asked of him with the ball but those Sundays needed to slow down. This pursuit of mastery, Taylor believes, is why Brady is still playing at age 45. There’s always something to learn. All layering a throw means is feathering a pass over the linebacker, yet in front of a defensive back.
Lawrence is now showing such touch in live action.
“It’s understanding when I can do that,” Taylor says, “and the speed that everybody’s moving at to make that throw.”
Lawrence turns 23 years old today. What stands out most to everyone from Taylor to the backup quarterback (C.J. Beathard) to the No. 1 wideout (Christian Kirk) is his maturity because we’ve seen traumatic rookie seasons destroy the careers of quarterbacks.
Last season was as unhinged as it gets for an NFL franchise. Yet, nothing seems too big for Lawrence.
“Obviously, he went through a tough rookie year,” Taylor says. “But you wouldn’t know it talking to him, the way he answers questions about things, the way he explains things, the way he takes responsibility.”
The bearded veteran backing up Lawrence can relate to an extent. Beathard went 1-4 as an unexpected rookie starter with the 49ers back in ’17. But nothing could compare to this madness. He says Lawrence genuinely tuned it all out and that the quarterback’s strong faith helped immensely.
“He had as crazy of a roller-coaster ride of a rookie year as I’ve ever seen,” Beathard says. “And he handled it. Every day was different. You never knew what you were going to get. We had to stick together as a team. Honestly, it brought us closer together as a team. We relied on each other, and as a group.”
His advice: Don’t press. When a game starts to go south, it’s easy to try to do too much. That was usually the problem behind all those interceptions. And in the Jags’ loss to the Eagles, he fumbled four times. Pederson said he’s hopeful that game is only a “blip.” The Jaguars have an opportunity to reel off some wins. Up next? The Texans, Colts, Giants, Broncos and Raiders before a date with arguably the best team in the NFL: the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s impossible for every quarterback to stay in tunnel vision. Beathard will always be the calming voice between drives.
“You may not listen to the outside noise,” Beathard explains, “but you feel it. A lot of rookies, a lot of young quarterbacks make the mistake of trying to press: ‘I have to do this. I have to make a play. I have to do something.’ Man, you don’t have to do anything. Just do your job. Just do the next best thing. Don’t force anything. Just do the next best thing, and big plays will happen.”
Of course, Beathard sees all of the physical tools but it’s Lawrence’s ability to handle this pressure that makes him believe most. The NFL is full of starting quarterbacks who don’t have what it takes mentally, he notes, and Lawrence is “as strong as they come mentally.”
The relationship between this quarterback and this coaching staff is night and day.
When they’re not working together in the building, Lawrence and Taylor text frequently. A play, a check, a thought will pop into one of their minds and they’ll alert each other. Above all, the Jaguars only want to put plays into the gameplan that Lawrence is comfortable running. If he doesn’t believe in something? That play won’t make the cut. This may sound procedural for all NFL teams, but it most certainly is not.
Too often, the square peg is inserted into the round hole. Coaches install their system and that’s that. Ego overrides true collaboration. To the extreme, that’s how a talent like Lamar Jackson falls all the way to No. 32 overall. NFL clubs were hesitant to trash their preconceived ideas of what the QB position is for a system that accentuated Jackson’s supernatural speed and evasiveness.
Pederson and Taylor have worked together for six seasons now. One of their daily objectives is to cater to the quarterback.
Because if the QB is playing well, Taylor knows the other 10 players are also bound to shine.
And what does Lawrence do best that the Jaguars will be taking full advantage of through this QB-friendly lens? Taylor points to three skills: Athleticism. Vision. Touch.
“Sometimes you patch and plaster so you can work a pocket and find a throw and that shows his athleticism and his arm strength and his touch that way,” Taylor says. “Sometimes, we’ll put him on the move because he is good on the edge. He’s a run threat as well. And he’s a smart kid. So we’ll give him the ability to get us in the right play at times. Whether that’s ‘He’s got this play. Kill it to that play vs. this look.’ Or, ‘Hey, just get us to the best possible play.’ He knows his menu of plays he can get to based on looks to keep the offense in the best possible play. It’s a combination: Everything we believe with his skillset and his mental capacity of trying to build what puts us in the best possible position.
“Now, I think there’s going to be things we start to hang our hat on. As the season goes, we’re just really good at this thing and we find ways to do that every single week. We put him and our guys in position to execute that stuff.”
Start with Kirk.
Most of the football world chuckled at this signing but, four games in, Kirk already has caught 20 balls for 327 yards (16.4 avg.) with three touchdowns. What makes Kirk particularly dangerous is his ability to get vertical from the slot position. Historically the slot receiver is a crafty, compact 5-foot-9 player getting you between six and 11 yards at a time. Think Cole Beasley serving as a glorified running game. But more offensive minds in the sport are figuring out that unleashing elite speed inside a formation can bust a game open because inside Kirk is often lined up against an inferior defender. The Jaguars are seeking a version of what Sean McVay does schematically with Cooper Kupp.
Kirk is emphatic in stating that he can line up outside. That’s what he did his first three years in Arizona. But even Kirk agrees he’s a “different version” of what we usually see from a traditional slot.
So, his line of communication with Lawrence is also open 24/7. They seek these mismatches together.
He also echoes Taylor and Beathard. Physically, this quarterback is rare but it’s all of the other stuff he loves.
“Mentally, he’s so mature with his approach every single day,” Kirk says. “Practice. Walkthroughs. Everything he does, he’s so diligent. There’s a purpose. When you see something like that, the work always shows itself. A guy like him puts in the work. So, he’s only going to keep going like this.”
Kirk’s hand moves up… up… up.
“The accuracy, the arm ability, everything that he has — physically — is top notch. The hype is real.”
As for everyone mocking his good name when the ink was dry on that whopper of a contract, Kirk sincerely could not have cared less.
“I know the type of player that I am,” he says. “I know the type of player that I’m going to be. And I know what I earned. To me that’s all that matters. I know what my teammates and my peers think about me. So, I’m just going to keep that, keep working and keep being the same guy that I’ve always been and not let the outside noise get to me.”
He smiles. With Lawrence, he can get the last laugh in more ways than one.
“I usually always do.”
There is not such joy surrounding the other teams that pinned their hopes and dreams to quarterbacks drafted in that ‘21 first round.
In Chicago, it’s unknown whether the front office completely failed Fields or if Fields was never the answer to begin with. New GM Ryan Poles refused to unload millions of dollars for weapons like the Jaguars’ Trent Baalke did here. Maybe paying up for Kirk would’ve unlocked greatness in Fields. Maybe paying up would’ve only delayed the inevitable. If the Bears didn’t fully believe in Fields, it would’ve been silly to kid themselves into contending. Fields’ inability to find any sort of rhythm throwing the ball is alarming. He’s able to make one or two plays a game that drop jaws, but that’s no way to make a living as an NFL quarterback. It’s starting to look like those whispers before the draft — that Fields was slow processor — had merit all along, and Poles will be quarterback hunting in 2023.
Meanwhile, processing a defense is Mac Jones’ greatest strength. His eyes move one… to two… to three a veteran’s pace. Yet, there’s nothing physically impressive about him.
Lawrence checks all boxes.
Unlike Jones, he also has intelligent offensive coaches guiding him. The more we saw of Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, the more we all should’ve realized Pederson is an exceptional coach.
Then, there’s Taylor. Widely regarded as a rising star, he’s already learned from so many different coaches. He started off as a grad assistant at the University of Tulsa under Bill Blankenship. Chip Kelly gave Taylor his first big break with the Eagles. And he’s picked the brains of others along the way: Pat Shurmur, Ryan Day, Bill Lazor, Bill Musgrave, Frank Reich, John DeFilippo, Pederson and, of course, his brother. Zac Taylor knows a thing or two about maximizing the talent of a No. 1 pick. Press has tried to “soak up” as much knowledge possible while simultaneously formulating his own identity. Something like Kevin O’Connell adopting the best qualities of Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan.
The Jaguars’ coaches didn’t arrive with a dusty leather-bound book and demand players run everything verbatim. They, in fact, changed much of the terminology to fit what players understand and have no problem plucking random plays from great offenses past or stealing plays from offenses present.
In other words, this Trevor Lawrence-powered offense is evolving before our eyes.
The challenge for the Jaguars is to not get overly bogged down in the granular, nitty-gritty details. Taylor is keeping the big picture at the forefront of his mind.
“We could all have a million great ideas,” Taylor says, “but we know we only have so many reps in practice we get. You’ve got to determine: What needs these reps? What doesn’t? What can they operate in? We’re Year 1 in a new system. Our reps are valuable. So, we don’t want to assume our guys know something inside and out. We’re conscious of that. You have to understand he’s still a second-year quarterback who we don’t need to overload just because he can handle it. We still want him to go out there and play free and play fast. We want the guys around him who are new to the system to be the same way. There’s the give and take of, ‘OK, we could give him this great play and give him all these kills and checks and alerts,” but then it gets wordy, we’re playing on the road. Young quarterback, new system, young center. Is that what’s best for us? You balance it. There are times, yes, this is the best thing for us and we’ll find a way to communicate it vs. ‘OK, now we have too many of these things.’ It’s all of us going through that.”
Because it’s not like Lawrence is going to tell his own coaches to slow it down.
Streamlining the offense into a scheme that’s complex, yet still allows everyone to play fast is paramount. On Wednesday, the gameplan may be learned just fine. On Thursday, Lawrence may pick up the exotic third-down packages A-OK. On Friday, he may seem to grasp the red zone work. But when you then put it all together, it’s a lot. That’s why the Jaguars have honest conversations on Saturday to see what Lawrence and his teammates aren’t so gung-ho about running. If they sense hesitancy, coaches eliminate that play for that week and store it away for the future.
Taylor surely has many gems stashed away. It’s the QC in him. He likens this entry-level role in Philly to getting a PhD in football.
He drew up plays on the computer and pushed it out to players. He broke down tape of the next opponent. He watch 300 plays from around the league each Monday night to see which offenses were doing something cool they could take — staying on top of all trends is crucial. Press Taylor built “vaults” and “libraries” of video clips that’ll surely come in handy here in Jacksonville.
Obsessing over the X’s and O’s isn’t easy on family life. His first child was born that ‘17 Super Bowl season. Taylor assures there’s “a special place in heaven” for football wives. Still, Pederson also does a great job of including family. Shortly before this chat, two of Taylor’s kids stopped by with his wife.
They chatted. We chatted.
Then, Taylor closed that submarine door to get back to work.
Work tends to be fun with a talent like Trevor Lawrence.