JACKSONVILLE – This was different, and not always in ways Urban Meyer loved.
But the Jaguars' head coach made a couple of things clear Friday in his first media availability of the 2021 NFL League Year.
He has learned a lot in recent weeks.
And he remains very optimistic about the direction of the Jaguars a little more than two months into his tenure.
"I have very strong feelings about the 904 and Jacksonville, Duval County," Meyer said Friday. "I want to make this a destination. We all want to make this a destination place, and I think we can."
Meyer discussed multiple topics in a Friday morning videoconference, including multiple members of the 11-player free agency class that agreed to terms with the team Wednesday – the first day of the '21 League Year. He said he liked the steps taken on the defensive line and secondary, and he spoke highly of offseason moves made at receiver and tight end.
Meyer, who is in his first NFL job after 17 seasons as one of the most successful coaches in college football history, said he absolutely didn't love one aspect of NFL free agency – i.e., that the nature of the process means often pursuing and signing players without meeting with those players personally.
"That was awful," Meyer said. "I don't agree with it, but no one asked my opinion. I guess [in] the old days, you could bring them in and meet them, have dinner with them and find out the football intellect, find out the character. … To answer your question, it was awful.
"I don't believe it should be that way, not when you're making organizational decisions. I'm not sure how that rule came about, but to me, that's not good business."
Meyer said the Jaguars' personnel officials and coaches – including [director of player assessment] Ryan Stamper and [director of player engagement and youth football] Marcus Pollard, a duo Meyer calls "our assessment guys" – did a "deep dive" on all players acquired.
Meyer on Friday spoke often of having learned in recent weeks the importance of value in free agency, saying that that was far different than college recruiting. He also said his college success "never really came up" in discussions with prospective free agents.
"I didn't feel the recruiting element," Meyer said. "I was ready to. I had my recruiting stuff ready to go, but it didn't really come down to that. It came down to, 'Are you going to pay the player and get in the game?' I was hoping to get some former players, but it didn't work. [Running back] Carlos [Hyde], I got.
"We went after a couple other ones or at least thought [of going after them], but once again, you start talking about value. So, that didn't really play a big role."
Meyer on the difference between free agency in the NFL and college recruiting: "In recruiting, we would have our recruiting meeting to identify the best players and go get them. And then all of a sudden [in the NFL], I start finding out this guy costs $28 million … Of course I knew it, but just the way you put that puzzle together about, 'Here's your cap space, here's your choices, can we take him, but we get three of these guys to help?' I imagine once you build your roster exactly the way you want it, then you can take one guy and go get the $25 million athlete. We're not in a position to do that right now, we're just not. So, it was a learning experience and I feel great about it."
Of the six 2021 free agent signings who toured TIAA Bank Field the past two days, just one – Chris Manhertz – was an offensive player. Manhertz is considered one of the NFL's better young blocking tight ends and will play the team's Y tight end role, which emphasizes inline blocking. "I think I have a lot to bring to the table outside of being a blocker; it's just a matter of just getting the opportunity and taking advantage of that opportunity," said Manhertz, who has 12 career receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown. "I'm just excited to get that chance and prove myself right and go forward from there."
Meyer on Friday spoke highly of the cornerback position, which the Jaguars addressed in recent days by signing Shaquill Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks and re-signing Sidney Jones IV and Tre Herndon. The Jaguars selected cornerback CJ Henderson No. 9 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. "If you can have two guys that can play man coverage and … if your third player can play man coverage, that's exactly where you need to be," Meyer said. "So, I really like [that's] where we're at with the four corners. Obviously after d-line, that's right where we went, was to go fix the corner position."
Defensive end Jihad Ward on joining the Jaguars this week as an unrestricted free agent: "I want to be a part of that change. A lot of people, when you deal with free agency, they want to deal with the winning teams that get a Super Bowl ring and all that stuff. Some people do it the easy way out. I want to challenge myself. I want to be a part of this organization and I want to see the moment. Everybody wants to think Jacksonville is going to be an easy win. When you go up against Jacksonville, you better think twice. Watch your mouth when you come to us. That's how you have to bring it to the table. I really don't speak much and all that stuff. You'll see."