Analysis

Encouraging signs from Trevor Lawrence as Jaguars eye quick turnaround under Urban Meyer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- To the untrained eye, Trevor Lawrence looked like he had a few good practices this week. He completed a rocket of a pass to Marvin Jones Jr. in a tight window. He rolled out and threw on the run. He did it all after shaking off a mistake-riddled early week practice to settle in, even when the defense was finally allowed to contest balls. All good signs of incremental progress for a rookie quarterback who is the centerpiece of the Jacksonville Jaguars' rebirth -- he stopped to toss toy footballs to a pee-wee team that watched practice -- even before he has been anointed the starter.

Urban Meyer has a simpler way to know that Lawrence is making progress.

"What makes Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all time is he find ways to win," Meyer said after practice this week. "Whether he's a Buccaneer or with the New England Patriots, he finds a way to win. I've had quarterbacks like that -- they win.

"I don't know if we're going to tell in a year. He throws a nice ball, that makes him one of about 60 to 70 quarterbacks. Does he win games?"

If it seems, then, that this season is a learning one for Lawrence and the Jaguars, Meyer is adamant it will not be. The Jaguars won one game last season, but Meyer has been insistent since his arrival that he does not have a long-term rebuild in mind. He wants results quickly, he wants competition everywhere and he has even imported from his college practices a Winners and Losers game for one-on-one drills that he intimated this week will help determine roster spots.

In a classic coaching tap dance, Meyer has not named Lawrence the starter, even though the No. 1 overall draft pick and most highly regarded college quarterback since Andrew Luck was a big reason Meyer took the Jacksonville job. And Meyer will not say what most people throughout the league believe is obvious: The Jaguars will have a good year as long as Lawrence stays healthy and gets a season's worth of experience under his belt. 

"No, oh no," Meyer said. "If he's not the quarterback we think we can win with -- we haven't made that decision. It's not a four-year plan. It's not fair to these players. It's a one-year plan."

A Jaguars practice showcases how many playmakers are on the roster for whoever plays quarterback. Jones, D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. can all make highlight-reel catches. Rookie Travis Etienne is being moved around the field and is a potential home run hitter. Lawrence will have no shortage of options.

Earlier this week, Lawrence told reporters he is much more comfortable than he was during spring practices and communicating play calls to the team is easier. And he told Brian Schottenheimer, the Jaguars' passing game coordinator, that he was no longer thinking about what they were trying to do on offense. He was able to simply react. That was a sign of progress, even though Schottenheimer said Lawrence is not quite to the point where he knows the playbook so well that he does not have to stop to think.

Still, Schottenheimer compares Lawrence's ability to process information to former Chargers and Colts quarterback Philip Rivers. They both saw progressions faster than most young quarterbacks and Schottenheimer believes that is because Lawrence, like Rivers, played a lot of football before arriving in the NFL. Schottenheimer said it is easy to forget what a great athlete Lawrence is -- he is 6-foot-6, but in practice he moves well and threw easily while on the move. Schottenheimer has no questions about Lawrence's physical ability to make any throw. The challenges are strictly mental.

Meyer has coached dozens of college players who went on to the NFL and the common thread for all of them is that the game is much faster in the NFL than even at the top colleges. The rush comes faster, the windows close more quickly. Meyer was pleased with how competitive practice was once pads went on and defenders no longer had to shy from contact. That is what Lawrence is experiencing now. Schottenheimer said Lawrence has so far been terrific at moving the offensive line protections and making the alerts in the running game.

"When you're doing these blitz periods, are we getting guys blocked up?" Schottenheimer said. "He's a young quarterback, so if he is our starter, we expect we'll get a lot of pressure. People are going to test him and blitz him. He sees that stuff really well so he's able to move and answer problems. Every so often, when there's a free runner, it's 'OK, what happened, what did you not see?' "

Perhaps most encouraging is that Lawrence's demeanor does not waver much from his cool surfer approach, whether he is completing a pass like the one to Jones that elicited gasps, or throwing an interception like those on Monday. Meyer's practices move crisply, with his chief of staff acting as master of ceremonies by directing which position groups go where and when to take a water break over a loudspeaker. Lawrence is part of the business-like operation. He is not demonstrative during practice, not in celebration or in frustration.

"That's the best thing about him -- what you see is what you get with him," Chark said. "That's good. You throw a pick, that means you're trying. Once we get on the same page, there won't be many of them. You need composure. You need a quarterback with poise. He has the talent to match it. A lot of times the emotional players -- like myself, I get emotional -- sometimes you get too emotional. It takes you out of your game. So, for a guy that's the head of everything, that's in charge, you need a guy that can make a mistake and come back and fix it himself."

Meyer calls players who perform well in drills but not in competitive situations "spandex teams." They look good, but they don't win. The Jaguars are still weeks away from a game that counts, when they'll be able to show they won't be a spandex team.

In the meantime, Schottenheimer focuses on something more rudimentary as a measuring stick for Lawrence.

"Completions," Schottenheimer said. "When you know you're cruising on offense is when you go through a Thursday or Friday practice and the ball doesn't touch the ground in a competitive period. That means you're having consistency when you're throwing a lot of completions and the ball is spread around. We're not there yet."

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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