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Beyond Minshew Mania: "No change whatsoever…"

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew warms up before an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

JACKSONVILLE – The Mania is a small part of the deal.

The mustache? That, too, is but a sliver of Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II's story – though it's a fun enough sliver to inspire a town (and a teammate) to sport facial hair of their own, real and otherwise.

But this particular story isn't about "Minshew Mania" as much as it's about how the guy who inspired it manages a furor that could be overwhelming but for him seems somehow routine.

"You can't help but notice it, but that's what it is outside," Minshew said as the Jaguars (2-2) prepared to play the Carolina Panthers (2-2) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday at 1 p.m.

"It's not in this building. It doesn't have anything to do with what we do out there. You try to keep it there, and not worry about it."

That's easier said than accomplished. But to hear teammates tell it, it's exactly what Minshew has done since taking over as the starter when Nick Foles sustained a broken clavicle in a Week 1 loss to Kansas City.

Minshew in four games has put up eye-catching numbers that defy his status as a sixth-round rookie quarterback. He has led the Jaguars to victories in the last two games, and is a thisclose two-point conversion run by running back Leonard Fournette against Houston in Week 2 from being 3-0 as a starter.

Those are the facts in the Minshew story, which is a seemingly constant presence locally, nationally and in the ever-pervasive Twitteverse. Beyond those facts is the phenomenon that has Minshew mustaches being seen everywhere in Jacksonville. Some fans are growing them. Others are donning fake mustaches.

Wide receiver D.J. Chark wore the latter variety while speaking to the media Wednesday, joking about his inability to match Minshew's bushy mustache and being more serious when asked about the rookie quarterback's ability to handle a spotlight as bright as any currently burning in the NFL.

"I'm impressed; he never seems to let all the hype get to him," Chark said. "He comes in and works every day. That's one reason why wearing a mustache and things like that are OK, because he doesn't let it get to him. He just likes to play football. You can't ask much more of him than that."

Such was the consensus in the Jaguars' locker room Wednesday – that while Minshew Mania may be viral, the player at its center seems remarkably unaffected, remarkably grounded and remarkably aware of where to keep his attention.

How much different is the kid now than he was in August? How much change from a player struggling to establish himself as a backup a month ago to a player who NFL Network Analyst Daniel Jeremiah on Wednesday ranked as the NFL's best rookie in September?

"No change whatsoever," Andrew Wingard said.

Wingard, a rookie free-agent safety for the Jaguars who also is Minshew's roommate, likes to talk about "sleeping in the trophy room" when referring to a player caught up in his own accomplishments. He used the analogy when discussing Minshew Wednesday.

"He's not sleeping in the trophy room, you know?" Wingard said. "He's remembering where he came from. He's staying nose to the grindstone and not letting the outside noise affect him and continuing in the grind. That's what's super cool to see and that's what's helping him a lot."

That Minshew continues to work isn't a surprise to teammates or anyone else around the Jaguars. Minshew's football intelligence, knowledge of offense and awareness were major reasons the Jaguars drafted him – and why he entered the season as Foles' backup despite an inconsistent preseason. They're traits he has continued to show.

"I always compare it to how I was as a rookie," fifth-year veteran tight end James O'Shaughnessy said. "I came in and even staying extra to do extra work was difficult for me just because I felt so overwhelmed. For him to come and not only play, but play such a significant role helping us win this early in his NFL career, is just astounding.

"He's got a big personality and everyone wants a piece of him, so that's another thing he'll have to handle. But I don't doubt he'll handle it amazingly just like he did everything else."

And while teammates are aware of the attention focused on the young quarterback, it's the preparation and approach that makes veterans believe the performance on the field can last – with or without the mania.

"He's having fun with it, and rolling with the punches, taking things as they come and working hard," veteran wide receiver Chris Conley said. "I think that's the best way you can really approach these things. I'm happy he's having success, but I'm also happy he's coming in every day and continuing to work and not letting it go to his head."

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