JACKSONVILLE – Urban Meyer left no doubt:
When it comes to building a roster and setting a foundation for the franchise's future, the Jaguars' head coach considers the coming weeks key. Critically so.
"Not to overdramatize the situation, but I can't imagine a more important time in the history of Jacksonville Jaguars," Meyer said.
Meyer, hired as the head coach on January 14, sat with Jaguars Media this week and discussed multiple topics – including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence's recent Pro Day, the Jaguars' offensive and defensive coordinators and what fans can expect from his Jaguars teams.
He, too, discussed the importance of the free-agency period that begins March 17 – and of the 2021 NFL Draft that begins April 29. The Jaguars hold the draft's No. 1 selection for the first time in franchise history, and they hold 11 selections overall. They also enter free agency with the most salary-cap space of any team in the NFL.
Jaguars Owner Shad Khan early in the offseason called the situation a unique opportunity, and Meyer reiterated that this week: "You have 11 picks in the first seven rounds. You have the most salary cap space in the NFL. You have the first pick in the draft. You have an organization and an owner that wants to win in the worst way."
"You tell me when in history you'll have that aligned again like that," Meyer said. "We have to do a very good job selecting. We call it talent acquisition. And other than developing culture, the most important thing is talent acquisition."
A look at Jaguars Media's conversation with Meyer. The conversation has been edited and condensed:
Question: You're a little more than six weeks into this. What have you learned about your team?
Answer: I just don't know enough about them yet. We can't even have a team meeting [until April 5 because of NFL offseason rules]. I've met a bunch of guys individually; I can tell you I'm really impressed with who I've met.
Q: Your staff has been working together right at a month now. It's a mix of former college and experienced NFL coaches. How has that gone so far?
A: I believe when you intertwine college coaches with professional coaches that you don't have the rigidity some staffs and coaches have: "This is the way we do it and we're not going to listen." The NFL game has changed dramatically in the last five years, specifically in the last three years. What you're seeing is the influx of college systems because the college quarterbacks, primarily, are used to a certain way. I really appreciate the coaches, the collaboration that's going on right now.
Q: You use the term "elite coaching staff." What's an elite coach?
A: You're going to hear the word "elite" all over the place around here. Elite is hard; I take a little bit of offense when I hear people use that word loosely. I've been fortunate to be around elite. You see some of the high draft picks, some of the great players we've been around. Those are elite players. I've also had elite coaches. I take that word very seriously. There's a term we're going to use: "The edge" is where average stops and elite begins. The greatest way to visualize that is practices. The first five practices in training camp your body's fine, your mind's fine … everything is good. But what about after practice five? What about after practice 15? That's when your body starts shutting down on you a little bit and fatigue starts to take over. What does the average player, the average coach, do at that time? They step backwards. What do elite people do? They push right through that edge. I like to say the edge is where average stops and elite begins. That's what I looked for in my coaching staff. In free agency and then draft, that's what we'll look for in players.
Q: Who was first coach you hired and why?
A: [Assistant Head Coach/inside linebackers] Charlie Strong. This is our third stop together. We were at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz and he was the first hire I made at Florida. That's how much respect I have for him. The football acumen is incredible, but it's much more than that. He's a people person. This whole organization is going to be about the player. I didn't say "soft on the player," but giving the player the very best that's available to them. That means we're going to push that player to the edge and we want to surround him with the best sports performance team, the best coaching staff, the best trainers, the best weight coaches. Coach Strong has that same vision. We share the same vision.
Q: Was there one common characteristic in offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Joe Cullen that stood out?
A: What I look for in a coordinator is not necessarily scheme but the best teacher. I had a relationship with Joe Cullen for probably 20 years. I have great admiration for where he came from. The [Baltimore] Ravens' defense is a defense I've always studied. But I would hire Joe if it was another defense as well. I think he's a great teacher. He's extremely tough, but the players love him and they love playing for him. On offense, I knew of Darrell and I had followed his career. But you look at his background. The common denominator is he took Russell Wilson from a rookie to the Super Bowl [while working with Wilson with the Seattle Seahawks]. We're going to hopefully do the same thing here and he has experience doing that –and his willingness to once again take the NFL model and inject some college offense into it.
Q: Free agency begins in less than two weeks. You were known as a great recruiter in college. Is there an element of that in free agency?
A: We're having a serious conversation about a facility here, a brand-new facility. I've put together a sports performance team that I expect to be the best in the NFL. You're talking about Jacksonville, Florida … no state tax and all of the above … weather. I want this to be the destination place in the National Football League. Obviously, money plays a huge role, but if those start to get close: "We want to go to Jacksonville. Why? Great place to raise a family, great place to live, great weather, great tax situation – and oh by the way: We have the best facility and the best support staff and best sports performance team in the NFL. That's the vision. That's the dream I have.
Q: When recruiting in college, you project young players to the college level. Is that process easier with NFL free agency because you can watch those players and see how they have performed at the NFL level?
A: It's much easier in the NFL when you're talking about free agency, but you start getting into age and money. That's what I'm not used to. In college, you're 17-to-22 years old. I just got done watching a 32-year-old defensive lineman where it's, "How much more does he have left in his tank?" And then: "What's the value?" In the NFL, you hear the term value all the time. What's the value of that player? What's the asking price? And then how much can you get out of him? In college it's not like at all. A lot of it is projection in college because you're taking a 17-year out of high school and you're going to throw him into the SEC or the Big 10 and it's more development. There is development still in the NFL, but sometimes you have to deal with 29-, 30- and 31-year-olds.
Q: Your impression of Trevor Lawrence after his Pro Day?
A: No. 1: We had extremely high expectations and we were not disappointed. But even more than the actual Pro Day was the way he handled it. We found out just days earlier about his left shoulder, that he had a labrum issue that's very fixable – and by the way, it is fixed. He's in rehab now. He very well could have said, "I'm not going to throw. I'm going to go and you guys take me or not. I'm that good." The conversation was similar to this: "Hey, what do you think?" "Let's go." That was the answer: "Let's go." I've seen him throw live at the Fiesta Bowl. I've watched him because of my job at Fox [Sports] and I've known Trevor quite a while. I wanted Schottenheimer and Bevell to see him live. I explained it to him (Lawrence) and he said, "Let's go. Give me the ball. Let's go." Seven days later, he was on the field throwing. Most kids, I would say, would not do that.
Q: You stood close to Lawrence throughout the Pro Day. Was that about talking to Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney, about applying pressure to Lawrence or something else?
A:Dabo Swinney and I have been close for 15 years. Jordan Palmer, who works with Lawrence, I'm very close with. I was talking to them. I do like to get very close to a quarterback and hear. You say, "Hear what?" I want to hear that ball leave his hand. I want to hear that ball go by my head. I do the same thing at practice. And I do want him to know we're right there. You'll see me do that with our kickers, too. I'm going to get real close to them. Life's about how you can respond to pressure.
Q:What will be the characteristics of a Jaguars player?
A:I'm going to tell you the characteristics of talent acquisition if we get the locker room the way I want that locker room. No. 1, it's going to be the most competitive people on the planet. We've all been around people – whether it be in academics, whether it be in business, whether it be on the football field – you don't lose. And if you do lose, you don't lose. You came up short. Time ran out. It won't happen again. No. 2 is toughness. Football is a tough, tough game – always was and always will be. No. 3 is leadership quality. Can you lead yourself first and can you lead others as a bonus? In the NFL – and I knew this, but I'm finding out – so much of the world you're on your own. You don't have coaches directing you all the time. Josh Allen has a family. That means he has to discipline himself to get up in the morning, go train, go do what he's supposed to do. We can't do that for him or we would. No. 4, intelligence. It's a complex game. Can he handle the complexities of the game of football? No. 5, adaptability. I think that's what makes [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick] Mahomes so good. He's even better when things break down. As a player, can you adapt to difficult situations?
Q:Can you provide a Cliff's Notes version of your culture?
A: Culture is what does it look like, what does it feel like and what does it act like. So, what does it look like? I want this team to play so fast. The worst thing a coach can do is take a great player and slow him down by making it too complex. The worst thing a coach can do also is bring people in the locker room that don't understand. The way mind works is sound bites. In tough situations your self-talk is going to direct your behavior. If your self-talk is, "Oh my gosh. Don't make a mistake; 30 million people are watching," what's that player look like? Very slow, very methodical, probably will make a mistake. If the player's thought is: four-to-six, that's the length of a play … four-to-six seconds; if it's A to B, Starting Point A and Finish Point B; and plus two mentality means I'm going to finish; when the whistle blows, I'm going to go two more steps. When I ask you to go 10 yards, you go 12 yards. That's the Cliff's Notes version. It's relentless effort and finish.
Q: On Sundays, what can fans expect?
A: I hope they sit down in their seats and see an energized, fast team. You can see when a team plays fast. That means fearless. That means not worried about making a mistake. I never use the word perfect. They will never see a perfect team. They're going to see a fast team. You won't play if you don't play fast. I'll make changes on the coaching staff if we can't coach them to coach fast.
Q: All the draft selections, the cap space … things are set up well. But how quickly can this move in the right direction?
A:If everybody does their job – the sports performance piece, the talent-acquisition piece, if we build that locker room and maximize what we end up with as a team – then it's set up well. Right now, it's not. We're right at the beginning of this. I do know this: I can't imagine a more important month for the Jaguars' organization than the next month.