JACKSONVILLE – There's something encouraging about the kid.
Doug Marrone made that clear regarding Jake Luton Wednesday. While noting that Luton being a rookie quarterback starting his first NFL game means much uncertainty, the Jaguars' head coach also emphasized what is perhaps cause for optimism.
"He doesn't act like a rookie," Marrone said.
Marrone, speaking to the media on a videoconference early Wednesday morning, spoke extensively about how Luton might fare against the Houston Texans at TIAA Bank Field Sunday. The conversation focused on unknowns, with Sunday representing not only Luton's first NFL start but his first professional game snaps of any kind.
But Marrone also emphasized the traits that made him choose Luton as the replacement for Gardner Minshew II, who will miss Sunday's game with a thumb injury.
"He's not a starry-eyed guy," Marrone said of the sixth-round draft selection from Oregon State. "He just kind of came in and went to work. He's just working hard and really went about things professionally. His reps were limited, but they were good; he was doing what we asked."
Marrone said Luton also was impressive during a difficult offseason and training camp. Because of COVID-19, there was no on-field work the offseason program, with meetings held virtually. Still, Marrone said the rookie learned new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's offense quickly.
"You look early on … picking up the system," Marrone said. "Systems now are probably quite different than most college programs on play calls and things of that nature. There's verbiage. There's a lot on that plate for those quarterbacks. The first thing I was impressed with outside physical ability that we all can see was his ability to pick it up, his intellect.
"That's the first thing you need. You have to be able to communicate well, go in there, call the play, then get up there and execute."
The Jaguars (1-6) have lost their last five meetings with the Texans (1-6), including a 30-14 Texans victory in Houston in Week 5 this season. The Jaguars' last victories in the series were a season sweep in 2017 en route to the AFC South title.
Marrone said the new quarterback lends uncertainty to the familiar matchup.
"This will be his first time going out there; that's what's a little bit different," Marrone said. "You just don't know how they're looking at it. There's not a lot of tape on Jake. They can maybe try to light him up, get after him and get to him early. They could maybe try to force him to throw the football and see if he can beat them doing that. There are a lot of things that go into it.
"You can prepare yourself for all of these different scenarios, but you're really not going to know until you get out there on game day and you get a couple of series in."
Luton passed for 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns with three interceptions as a senior at Oregon State last season. With COVID-19 canceling the 2020 preseason, Luton never has taken an NFL preseason or regular-season snap.
"The hardest thing for all of us, especially that position, is how is that player going to be when really the bullets are flying?" Marrone said. "It's a unique position, especially now this year without the preseason games – where you can kind of see him when things are going fast and you've got a lot of bodies flying around you. Some guys are calm. You've seen them in the league. They've been successful. They're calm. They step up. They can deliver the football. They keep their eyes down the field.
"Some guys get hit and they get rattled. I mean we've all seen that. That's really what the unknown is. … I feel good about putting him in there I feel good about his potential. I just don't know how he's going to be in the game."