JACKSONVILLE – Continuity is key.
The Jaguars didn't have much in 2022. They should have a lot of it in 2023, and Head Coach Doug Pederson believes strongly in its value – particularly offensively and particularly for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Very, very strongly.
"That's big for us," Pederson said this week as he looked ahead to the 2023 offseason.
Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, improved dramatically in his second season – as did the Jaguars' offense overall. As he and Pederson see it, that could be a first step – and far from the last.
"It feels good, knowing the foundation we have here, that we set this season and last offseason – and knowing I'm going to be in the same system moving forward," Lawrence said. "I'm really excited to have that experience and this tape to learn from.
"As many things that we did good this year, there's a lot of things that we can do better. I'm not going to have to learn a new offense. Just to have that stability is really exciting – for myself and for all of our guys on offense."
The Jaguars were the team with the least continuity among the final four teams in the AFC playoffs this past weekend. Whereas Lawrence and Pederson were in their first season together, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is in his sixth season working with Head Coach Andy Reid.
"Their core guys have been there and they've been to these AFC Championship games – same coaches, the same coordinators," Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "You kind of have to build that to get to where they go. That's what we're trying to be."
Pederson talked throughout the season and early in the season about the importance of continuity and familiarity for all elements offensively and for Lawrence – and he revisited the subject Monday.
"For Trevor, it's everything," Pederson said. "There's continuity. There's consistency. He knows the guys he's going to be throwing the ball to. He knows the coaching staff who's going to be coaching him.
"The jumps that teams make is usually Year One to Year Two, possibly in Year Three [in offensive and defensive systems]. For our quarterback, who had a great year this year, he'll only get better – just having that consistency around him."
The first element of continuity for Lawrence and the offense? Scheme. The Jaguars' February hiring of Pederson as head coach meant Lawrence – the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft – played 2022 in his third offensive system in three seasons: The Clemson system, his rookie offensive system and Pederson's system.
"It's his third offense in three years, and it takes a while to master that," General Manager Trent Baalke said. "I think you saw the development of him mentally as well as physically throughout the course of this season. And I think it's only going to trend upward from there."
The second? Personnel. The Jaguars last offseason overhauled the skill positions around Lawrence – signing Kirk, tight end Evan Engram and wide receiver Zay Jones as unrestricted free agents. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. also emerged as the No. 1 running back after missing his 2021 rookie season with a Lisfranc injury.
Those players and other players not on the roster last season – running backs Snoop Conner and JaMycal Hasty – accounted for 75 percent of the Jaguars' yards in 2022.
"Getting that core group back for a second year in the same offense with – with the same play caller and all that goes with it – I think that's going to really help Trevor take the next step and his team to take the next step," Baalke said.
The Jaguars this season improved with familiarity. Lawrence threw 10 touchdowns and six interceptions for an offense that averaged 21.5 points per game with a 2-6 record through eight games. As the Jaguars won eight of 11 games thereafter, Lawrence threw 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions for an offense that averaged 25.7 points per game.
"It definitely evolves," Kirk said. "We got to it more as the season went on of being able to check to some things and kind of open up the book of what we're able to get to … when we don't like a certain look and Trevor just out there seeing it a little bit more. He's learning. We're all learning. Next year, you've seen all the looks, you know what you're going to get.
"That helps. Going into next year, as we start playing again, we're going to be able to look back on some of the things that we went through this year and be able to carry that over."