JACKSONVILLE – Even virtually, The 'Stache is leading.
And even virtually, those discussing Gardner Minshew II have little but positive to say. The Jaguars' young quarterback has that effect on those around him.
"He seems," Jaguars tight end Tyler Eifert said recently, "like an awesome dude."
Eifert, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March, has met Minshew only via videoconference. Such is the effect of COVID-19 on the 2020 NFL offseason. But if awesomeness is a common topic from those who discuss Minshew, more pertinent are Eifert's impressions of Minshew from a football perspective.
"He is taking charge already," Eifert said.
Eifert's far from alone in that view. New Jaguars running back Chris Thompson on Tuesday discussed the importance of all players having a grasp of new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's offense, and said Minshew "is grasping it well."
"He's been on top of it pretty well already given that it's been a little over or under a month that he's had the playbook and learning it," Thompson said. "I think it's going to be no problem for him to catch on to it."
Indeed, when discussing Minshew this offseason, players, coaches and personnel officials have painted a picture of a player taking full advantage of a career opportunity.
"I've chatted to him and talked to people around him, and it seems like he's a man on a mission," General Manager David Caldwell said recently.
That mission began just over a year ago, and Minshew's rise from sixth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft to a rookie who played well enough for the Jaguars to make him their starter just a year later has been well-documented. His task now?
"He can take another step up," Caldwell said. "What he did as a rookie was impressive. If he gets 20 percent better, you're looking at it like, 'Wow, we could really have something with him."
Caldwell recently said perhaps Minshew's biggest areas of improvement must be ball security in the pocket and red-zone opportunities – common areas of focus for a young quarterback.
"Those are two things with rookie quarterbacks that are the last thing to kind of figure out with the speed of the game," Caldwell said. "With his football IQ and his determination and the way he's approaching this offseason, I think those are things he's going to take care of pretty regularly."
Kurt Warner, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and now an NFL Network analyst, joined jaguars.com senior correspondent Brian Sexton recently. Warner spoke of Minshew's likely mindset entering what by any measure is a critical season in his young career.
"I think there's automatic pressure that comes with any team handing you the ball and saying, 'OK, you're our guy at the most important position on the football field, you're going to have to play well for us to win,''' Warner said. "I think that's going to be the balancing act for Gardner: Play within yourself, be who you are, but at the same time, you want to play well and hold onto the job and prove to the Jags, 'I deserve to be your franchise quarterback.' Balancing that and being able to be yourself and letting the game come to you, is always the best advice.
"But it also can be the toughest thing to do. It's tough to wait. When you get that chance, you want to go out and set the world on fire, and let everybody know, hey, this is my job."
One area Warner doesn't anticipate being a problem for Minshew is playing from the pocket. While Minshew created many of his most memorable plays as a rookie while scrambling, Minshew told Warner before the Jaguars' Week 9 loss to the Houston Texans in London that he considered himself a pocket passer first.
Warner said he expects Minshew to be strong in that area moving forward – and said he expects Minshew will show that in Gruden's West-Coast style offense, a scheme that emphasizes quick decision-making from the quarterback.
"I think he's more comfortable in a normal situation, playing inside the pocket and playing with more structure," he said. "I think last year he was thrown in; he was swimming a little bit and it was survival. He was able to make a whole bunch of plays that way.
"I think this will be good for him. I think he's used to playing in structure. He's used to playing in rhythm and on time. And (he) just needs more time."
The Jaguars want Minshew to do more than survive. They want – and need – him to show he's a potential franchise quarterback deserving of the opportunity at hand. And from what his teammates have seen thus far – virtually, at least – he's doing whatever he can to do just that.
"He seems like a guy that the offense wants to rally behind," Eifert said. "He seems like he is kind of a fearless leader and you need that when you are on the field and the bullets are flying and things are not going your way. You need that kind of guy that is going to take charge of the huddle and be like, 'We got this.'
"I think it will be fun to see his growth from Year 1 to Year 2 and I'm excited to get to work with him."