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Conversation with Gruden: "When Doug called, it was easy…"

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks Gardner Minshew (15) and Nick Foles (7) talk during warm ups before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks Gardner Minshew (15) and Nick Foles (7) talk during warm ups before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – He's hungry again, and ready.

That's one of the first things Jay Gruden mentions when asked why he returned to coaching in January, taking the job as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator three and half three months after being fired as the Washington Redskins' head coach.

The decision was easy, he said. He's a coach, after all – and one with pride.

"You have a desire to get back in it, and try to prove you're still a worthy football coach," Gruden told Wednesday morning at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden spoke early Wednesday morning at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. Outside, a wet snow fell on slick streets. Inside, Gruden discussed various topics – including joining the Jaguars, his play-calling "style" and the Jaguars' quarterbacks.

He also discussed his enthusiasm for his new position – and that enthusiasm is real.

"When [Jaguars Head Coach] Doug [Marrone] called and made the offer, it was easy," he said.

Gruden, who has spent the past month meeting with the Jaguars' offensive staff and studying offensive personnel, on Wednesday also discussed his style as coordinator/play-caller – emphasizing that his offense can take multiple approaches. Much will depend on personnel, and much will be determined in the coming months.

"I think you have to cater to the guys you have, and right now we're still working through what type of team we're going to be," Gruden said.

Yes, there is unknown. But Gruden said he is ready for it – and enthusiastic about focusing on offense again after five years as a head coach. The time is right for this position, he said.

"It's exciting," he said. "I'm fired up."

Here's's conversation with Gruden:

Question: Why get back into coaching? Why now?

Answer: Things might have been different if I'd gotten fired right after the season and maybe I'd needed some time to unwind. Since I got fired after Week 5, I'd had quite a bit of time to reflect and get all of my negative emotions out. You tend to get down on yourself when you get fired. You feel like you let a lot of people down. Disappointment sets in. Anger sets in. You get all of the emotions you go through when you get fired, but once you get time to let that settle down a little bit then you have a drive to compete and you want to get back.

Q: Why the Jaguars? What made it feel right?

A: I was talking to some people who represent television talent. I was thinking about trying to pursue that. I was on the fence. Jacksonville came open and Coach Marrone called me. I came down to interview and enjoyed my time. I love Florida and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get back in with a young quarterback (Gardner Minshew II), and with (veteran quarterback) Nick (Foles) – and see what happens. Just coming down and talking to Coach Marrone – getting to know the staff: [offensive line coach] George [Warhop], [tight ends] coach [Ron] Middleton, [wide receivers coach] Keenan McCardell, [running backs] coach [Terry] Robiskie … they're all in the room, four good coaches. I felt like I got on nice with them, which is important. Sometimes you get hired as a coordinator and you don't get to hire your staff … if you don't fit in with the guys who are already there, you don't want to do it. I got to talk to them about the players on the team and the situation. There's a lot of positive energy. Everybody knows the feet are to the fire a little bit. We've got to get things done, but that's pro football. That's the way it is in every building.

Q: Quarterback is the obvious topic. Your thoughts on that situation…

A: Nick had an unfortunate injury. He comes in, throws a nice touchdown pass and breaks his collarbone [in Week 1 last season]. Then he came back and had a couple of rough games and not all his fault. A lot of times when the quarterback struggles, it's on the quarterback. A lot of times when the quarterback has success, he probably gets too much credit. But Nick didn't have a lot of opportunities to make some plays in some of these games that he failed in. The Tampa Bay game, he didn't play his best football. Coach Marrone decided to get a spark and make something happen. Gardner's an exciting player and people tend to gravitate toward his personality and energy. Nothing against Nick; Nick's still a great quarterback. They're two different quarterbacks. Both of them have a lot to work with. Nick has a live arm, a strong arm, great pocket passer, accurate, played in big games, excelled in big games. Gardner has great energy. He has the escapability that you need nowadays in pro football because things aren't always going to be perfect. And he obviously has the leadership skills that are necessary to be at that position. (Smiling) So, let the competition begin…

Q: Take me through your last three-to-three-and-half weeks since your hiring…

A: You've got to try to teach your offense to the coaches and make sure we come up with a plan. When you go over your offense, you have to go into it with an open mind and listen to the way things have been done at different places. I don't want to come in and just say, "This is how we're going to do it … this is how we're going to call it, and this is it …" Right now, we're going through the process of how I called things and how we did things, getting input from other coaches. Hopefully, in the next week or two I'll be able to finalize what we're calling things and how we're calling them. We're just trying to find a standard way that's going to be easy for our players to learn, easy for our coaches to learn, so we can go out and excel the best way we can. It will probably be mostly my terminology, because at the end of the day, I have to call the plays and I have to be comfortable. But there are some things I think I need to update and tweak a little bit to make things easier to learn.

Q: Have you been over every Jaguars game from last season? Is that the first step? How do you immerse yourself to find out what you've got?

A: I think it's very important to know who you have. There's a lot of talent, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done. If you look at the offensive line, Cam [Robinson] did some good things at left tackle, but he was in and out of the lineup [following a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2018]; he has to get healthy. Obviously, Andrew [Norwell] – the left guard who they paid as a free agent – is a powerful, good player. Brandon [Linder]'s a heck of a center; that's exciting. A.J. [Cann], he does some good things at right guard; he has played a lot of football. Obviously, Jawaan [Taylor] is a great right tackle with huge upside; he's one of the most exciting things that jumped out on tape to me as an offensive lineman with his explosiveness, his feet – he's a natural.

Q: What's the importance of a third-down back who can be productive as a receiver?

A: I think it's important for everybody. You look at the success of most of these teams: San Francisco had their little back that they throw to; Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints … the teams that have success throwing the football, that matchup has to win. If teams are going to drop back and play zone [defensively], that check-down area where he [a third-down running back] gets the ball is critical. And the position is key in protection. With the variety of blitzes teams are showing, you have to have a back that can protect and know who to block and then obviously get out here and separate and win in pass routes. That position is something we need to look at.Something we have to work through is where we're going to go as far as type of tight end. There are different types of tight ends now. It would be nice if it was all-encompassing: "Hey, this guy's a great blocker, a great route-runner and can do everything…" There's not many of those. There are different ways to get different skill sets you can use.

Q: Wide receiver?

A: Obviously some more people to take pressure of DJ [Chark Jr.] a little. [Chris] Conley did some good things. It was Dede [Westbrook]'s first time in the slot, and you could see there were some things he was working through there. There is some mixing and matching we have to do at the wideout position. Let's go out there and play. They're young. They play with great energy. We just have to get some confidence and hopefully they buy into the system and want to play.

Q: It's always difficult to label a coordinator, but people want to know: What kind of a coordinator are you?

A: I try to not force-feed anything on anybody. I try to cater to what we have as a football team. In my time at Cincinnati (as offensive coordinator) and Washington, we've featured three tight-end sets, two tight-end sets, one tight-end sets, different types of receiving groups, different types of runs, gap-blocking, outside zone, inside zone … We've done zone reads. We've done RPOs. We've done a lot of everything, but I think it's important to figure out who we have first. Because we can attack a lot of different ways: 11 personnel, 12, 21, 31, 13 … whatever you want, we can figure out a way to do it. We're still working through things. Are we going to have a fullback? I don't know. We still have the draft and free agency, and that opens up a whole new can of 35-to-40 plays in your offense.

Q: A couple of final thoughts. One, you were a head coach a long time. With play-callers, sometimes it's good to just get back to just doing that. Are you excited about it?

A: I am actually. If I had to do it all over as a head coach, I'm not so sure I would call plays. As a head guy, there's so much on your plate. That's what's exciting to me: I can just focus on offense.

Q: Final question on the big question: Quarterback. It's unusual in this league to not have a starter yet. Or do you not mind that?

A: You have to play the hand that's dealt. You'd much rather go into a season knowing who your guy is because you can cater to him and really hone in on his skillset. The problem we had in Washington last season is we had three: Colt [McCoy], Case [Keenum] and [Dwayne Haskins]. To try to divvy up those reps is almost impossible. It's not fair to those guys or the team and it's a situation no one gets better from. Having two is a little bit easier. You can move the reps around and feature one guy one day and the next guy the next day – or go 50-50 the whole time. But definitely you would rather have one. We'll play it out and ultimately Doug will have the final call. When he says, "This is our guy…" fine by me. But I'd like to see these guys compete, personally. Right now, at this time of year, it would be silly to say, "He's our guy." I think both of them should feel the need to compete and prove that they are the guy because I think both of them have the talent to be the guy. Now, it's just a matter of which one wins.

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