JACKSONVILLE – What has been a tricky position must be that no more.
New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden didn't talk much about the Jaguars' recent past when talking about tight ends Tuesday. But when talking about the future, he made clear that the position must perform well for the offense to do the same.
"I know how important the tight-end position is," Gruden said.
Gruden, the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator from 2011-2013 and the Washington Redskins' head coach from 2014-2019, spoke to local media via video conference Tuesday. Among the positions prominently discussed: tight end, where the Jaguars have struggled to find a go-to player in recent seasons and where the team was hit by injuries last season.
"If you look at our successful teams in Cincinnati and in Washington, when Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis played with the Redskins, we were pretty good on offense, really – especially on third down and in the red zone," Gruden said. "When those guys didn't play, you were asked to replace them with some younger guys who aren't quite as athletic or gifted as those guys."
A key area where the Jaguars must improve moving forward is red-zone efficiency. They finished 31st in the NFL in the category each of the past two seasons.
"It's difficult down there," Gruden said. "You can double receivers all you want to. It's hard to double tight ends and tight ends really are a key component down there in the red zone and on third down. They're a quarterback's best friend. he passes don't have to be 25 yards down the field. They can be option routes, choice routes, in-breaking routes … you know, quicker-type element passes – if you have that tight end."
The Jaguars signed tight end Tyler Eifert as an unrestricted free agent in March. A Pro Bowl selection following the 2015 season, Eifert played his first seven NFL seasons with Cincinnati – including 2013, Gruden's last season as the Bengals' offensive coordinator.
"He's run the option route with a fly; he's lined up outside," Gruden said. "He makes the defense show their hand a little bit. Who's covering him? If it's man-to-man, the safety's got him, so the quarterback knows, 'If this is man-to-man, I know where to go with the football. …'
"So, having a tight end is critical. And I know that when you don't have one, times are tough. … It's a key position, and I think Tyler's going to be a great add for us in getting these guys all on the field and see what they can do. It's going to be exciting."
Gruden on Tuesday also addressed:
*Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.: "He is playing with a load of confidence right now and that is very exciting. He's got the skill set with the size, speed and ability to come in and out of cuts. I think we can do a little bit more with him. I'd like to get him inside and do some more things with him in the slot. He's an excellent specimen. The thing that I have come to know about DJ in the limited time I got to meet him was that he's hungry. He wants to be great and when you have the athletic qualities that he has and then the desire to be great, he's going to have a very bright future. Now it is our job to get him acclimated to this offense and get him comfortable where he can go out there and play fast because he is a big, strong, fast, hungry kid and we got to give him the ball."
*On tight tackle Jawaan Taylor: "He's long, he's athletic and he plays with the tenacity you love from a tackle. I am very excited to get to work with him. He can run, he can pull, he can get out there on screens, he's physical in the running game and he can pass protect. He's got great feet. He's got every quality that you want in an offensive tackle and the more experience he gets and handling some of the movement up front, the better he's going to be. I think that he's one of the best right tackles in the game athletically and the more he plays and the more he sees, the better he is going to get. …"
*On Chris Thompson, a third-down running back who played for Gruden in Washington from '14-'19: "I can rely on Chris for sure. Chris is like another coach. He will correct me sometimes honestly. He's awesome. He's smart, very detailed in what he does." …