JACKSONVILLE – It's a new year, and a real opportunity for Ben Bartch.
It's actually a very important opportunity for the second-year guard – one Jaguars coaches said he has embraced as the 2021 preseason nears an end. Bartch knew the importance of the year, which was why he worked throughout the offseason improving size and strength.
"Rookie year you figure out pretty quick how strong you need to be," Bartch said Thursday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m. in the 2021 preseason finale.
Bartch, a fourth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2020 NFL Draft, played sparingly as a rookie last season. He has worked with the starters extensively throughout 2021 Training Camp, working at left guard with starter Andrew Norwell missing the first two games with an elbow injury.
Bartch, who started one game with 220 total snaps as a rookie, started both of the Jaguars' preseason games – and drew praise this week from Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer.
"He'll be an NFL player," Meyer said. "He's done a nice job."
Bartch, who played collegiately at Division III St. John's (Minn.) University, said he has relaxed somewhat as a player in his second season and has a better understanding of what's expected. That came after an offseason working out in California, which he said significantly improved his strength.
"I just had a good offseason," Bartch said. "It was basics, meat-and-potatoes stuff – going to work early and doing everything you need to do in the weight room. I don't think I'm done yet. I have more goals and trajectory going forward."
Bartch, who gained a measure of pre-draft fame for the smoothies he drank at St. John's to gain bulk to transition to the offensive line, said he no longer drinks the smoothies.
"I don't really need the calories anymore," he said with a smile.
Dare Ogunbowale didn't want an increased opportunity this way. But with rookie running back Travis Etienne Jr. out for the season with a Lisfranc injury sustained Monday against New Orleans, he and the rest of the Jaguars' running backs could have new and increased roles. "That's definitely devastating for Travis," Ogunbowale said of Etienne, the No. 25 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. "He's like a little brother. I wanted him to have a good first year, but I don't doubt that he'll bounce back with rehab and stuff like that. We just have to have his back. He had a nice role in the offense, so the rest of us as a committee have to pick up the slack." Ogunbowale, who played collegiately at Wisconsin, rushed for 121 yards on 28 carries for the Jaguars in the last two games last season with starter James Robinson out those games with a knee injury. "I've always been tagged as a special teamer," Ogunbowale said. "So, it was nice to be able to start at running back and get a chance to put some good runs together and put some good plays on film. That's definitely what I showed. I just had to add to my versatility and showed what I've worked at through my career, becoming a better runner."
Bartch on how the offensive line approaches the run game: "In our room, there are a lot of hard workers and everybody has really big goals. Everybody in our room wants to win really bad. The way we're going to do that is run the ball."
Bartch on rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence being named the starter for Week 1: "We're excited for the kid. He's an excellent player and he has a bright future ahead of him. We just take orders and block for whoever we block for. But the offensive line has a great relationship with all the quarterbacks and running backs."