JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)When the Jacksonville Jaguars sent rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew back to the bench, they didn’t banish him to the usual backup role.
Coach Doug Marrone added an extra practice period designed to help the sixth-round draft pick address his biggest issues. Minshew worked on third-down plays every Thursday and on red-zone plays each Friday.
The Jaguars (4-8) hope to see improvement in both key areas Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, when Minshew returns to the starting lineup for the first time in more than a month.
”It was big,” Minshew said. ”You don’t get a lot of live reps when you’re No. 2. It was really cool of them to be able to do that for me and help me continue to get better.”
Marrone is turning to Minshew for the final four games of the regular season, making the switch because of Minshew’s mobility and elusiveness. Veteran Nick Foles was sacked eight times in 10 quarters since returning from a broken left collarbone.
Foles also has two touchdowns and four turnovers in those games.
Minshew was more efficient. He has 14 TD passes and five interceptions, earning the NFL’s Rookie of the Week honors six times, but also has fumbled 12 times and lost seven.
Equally problematic has been his performance on third down and near the goal line. Jacksonville ranks 24th in the league in third-down offense, converting just 34.6% of the time, and 30th in red-zone scoring, with 13 touchdowns in 34 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
”The first thing is obviously the turnovers,” Marrone said. ”That’s the first thing, the ball security. He had a lot of fumbles, and we wanted to make sure that we clean that up. The other stuff comes from a couple different coverages and reads and what we want to do with him. I’m probably going to stay away from that, obviously. I don’t want to publicly say it, but we’ve worked hard on it.
”We know he can extend plays. We know he can run. Now we just want to get him on the different types of coverages that he might not have seen in college as much.”
Minshew went 4-4 as the starter in place of Foles and provided a captivating story for the franchise. He gave the team a chance in nearly every game and attracted fans near and far. His 1970s look – he wears a headband, has an unkempt mustache, the jean shorts and throwback T-shirts – is as much a part of his engaging persona as stories that range from pregame stretching while wearing only a jock strap to trying to break his hand during college in hopes of earning an extra year of eligibility.
Teammates welcome his return.
”Obviously, we get a little bit more excited when you see him come in because we know the things he can do,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. ”We know what both quarterbacks can do; they’re equally excitable. But Gardner has the magic, I guess.”
Added receiver DJ Chark: ”He brings energy. There’s no quit in him. You see him out there running around and trying to make plays.”
Minshew, meanwhile, believes he was still able to learn without playing. He still got meaningful repetitions in practice and got to see how Foles handled calling plays and running the offense.
”A lot of times when you’re playing, you’ve got a million different things you’ve got to focus in on and you kind of lose some of the smaller stuff sometimes,” Minshew said. ”When you’re out of that role, you can kind of step back and see the little details. It was a really good experience for me.”
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