On the scoreboard, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence fared no better in a half of play Monday night — three points — than did backup Gardner Minshew, who led the club to just three points himself in the second half. And while the scoreboard will be all that really matters to new coach Urban Meyer once the regular season gets underway next month, Lawrence still managed to leave little doubt why he should be a rookie starter from the outset.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft made a few terrific throws in a 23-21 road loss to the New Orleans Saints.
There was a 15-yard rollout strike to Laviska Shenault Jr. that Lawrence executed under heavy duress from Saints 6-foot-6 defensive end Marcus Davenport . There was a third-down conversion to Marvin Jones for a gain of 13, also under pressure, to keep alive the lone Lawrence-led scoring drive. He flashed late in the half with an 18-yarder over the middle to tight end Luke Farrell, putting the Jaguars in field goal range in a two-minute-drill setting — all with a zip to his velocity that Minshew can’t muster.
It was much more extensive action than he saw in Jacksonville’s preseason opener, when he played just 15 snaps over two drives against the Cleveland Browns. Monday night, Meyer sent him out for the entire first half — six possessions – and he responded with 14 completions on 23 attempts for 113 yards. Perhaps even more encouraging, he did it without a turnover, and in the face of a Saints pass rush that harassed him much more than its lone sack of Lawrence would indicate.
He leaned heavily on Jones and Shenault, who caught nine of his 14 completions. He was pleased with two things he emphasized during the practice week — making some plays on the run, and getting rid of the ball more quickly. His next step? Recognizing the value of cheap yards.
“I did think I got the ball out of my hand quicker this week,” Lawrence said. “Just sometimes, I want to find the checkdown. If it’s a short completion, let’s take five [yards] and move on. I think sometimes I threw it away when I could’ve hit the checkdown. But I thought that was something I did better this week — getting the ball out of my hand.”
Lawrence flashed briefly as a runner, as well.
Midway through the second quarter, flushed from the pocket to his left on a third-and-8, he scrambled for a first down to the Saints’ 20-yard line. Getting that first down demanded an ill-advised forward dive, exposing Lawrence to a sandwiching between cornerback Ken Crawley and defensive lineman Jalen Dalton, but Lawrence clearly recognized that a hook slide wouldn’t have moved the chains.
“Third and fourth down, you’ve got to go get it,” Lawrence said.
On his final series, Lawrence connected on his first five passes before the drive stalled, taking a sack on his final snap before a failed field goal attempt.
Minshew, meanwhile, completed 13 of 21 in the second half, underthrew an open man on a deep ball, and tossed a late interception. C.J. Beathard accounted for two Jacksonville TD passes late in the fourth quarter.
New Jaguars coach Urban Meyer has been coy about the quarterback decision.
He might continue to be.
But there’s no need; it doesn’t take an NFL coach to see that Lawrence isn’t just the future in Jacksonville.
He’s the present.
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