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View from the O-Zone: A better backup feeling

JACKSONVILLE – The outlook feels a touch brighter.

That speaks volumes about the odd feeling around this impossible-to-evaluate 2019 Jaguars Preseason, but it nonetheless remains true.

No, the Jaguars' 24-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday at TIAA Bank Field wasn't pretty – but there's now a better feeling about the Jaguars' backup quarterback compared to last week thanks to a mustachioed rookie who is the team's No. 1 preseason storyline thus far.

That rookie: Gardner Minshew.

"You get your feet wet and grow in confidence from that," Minshew said Thursday. "The more reps you get, the more comfortable it is."

Minshew's words Thursday weren't all that different than those he has spoken throughout training camp. He talks often of learning from mistakes and speaks like what he is – a player who knows he has much improving to do.

But if his words were familiar, his performance looked far different than last week when he completed 7 of 14 passes for 46 yards in a 29-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"I thought Gardner gave us a really good opportunity to win the game," Head Coach Doug Marrone said Thursday night. "At the end of the day, he did a lot. He did a lot for me to where I feel he's done a good job."

Minshew on Thursday completed 19 of 29 passes for 202 yards, and Marrone talked extensively afterward about Minshew's resiliency and ability to get the offense out of bad plays and into good ones.

That counts as significant praise for a young quarterback.

It also counts as a significant storyline for the Jaguars in what through the first two games has been an odd, tricky-to-evaluate preseason.

Backup quarterback has become the Jaguars' No. 1 preseason story essentially by default. With Marrone holding nearly all starters and front-line players out of the first two preseason games, it thus far has been impossible to get much of a read on what this team will be when it faces the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular-season opener September 8 at TIAA Bank Field.

The first real chance to get such a read will come next week. Marrone said this week he plans to play the starters in Preseason Week 3 at Miami, making that game the first chance to see new quarterback Nick Foles and the starting offense.

Until then, what we have a more minor storylines – with the most "major" minor storyline Minshew's effort to solidify himself as the backup quarterback behind Foles.

He didn't do that in Baltimore, though to be fair to Minshew he got little help from a struggling offensive line in that game – and to be equally fair, the way he responded to adversity of couple of times in that game was reason for optimism.

Marrone cited perhaps the most adverse moment as a reason he has confidence in Minshew moving forward.

 "He took that big hit last week," Marrone said, referring to a hit late in the first half in which Minshew was separated from his helmet on a sack. "That's the one thing you kind of look for when you're a coach. When those guys come over to the sideline [after a hit such as the one Minshew took], sometimes there's a look that they have and you're like, 'Oh. This is not good.' They're rattled or they don't know what happened. It takes a while to get confidence back.

"But I thought that Gardner was unwavering … like, 'Let's go.'''

Minshew, who followed his Baltimore performance with an impressive week of practice, showed Marrone more than toughness Thursday.

Images from the second preseason game as the Jaguars host the Eagles.

"There was a play tonight that will get overlooked," Marrone said. "It was third and long. He threw a check-down. We got about six or seven yards. We were short of the first down, but instead of trying to force the ball down the field at that time of the game … We didn't have anything. He makes a throw. It's complete. We go ahead and punt. In a close that game, that seven yards is a big difference."

"There are a lot of things he does that I like."

Marrone also praised Minshew's demeanor, and if that sounds like a lot of praise in one night … well, it is. And that's a big development.

"He's a bright kid, a smart kid and I think he showed he got better from the week before," Marrone said.

No, we still don't know much definitive about how the Jaguars will look once the games matter. And yes, there are a lot of questions that may not get answered about this team until September 8.

But the Jaguars' backup quarterback story is a big story – one of the biggest stories of the '19 preseason.

And the outlook on that front is absolutely better than it was a week ago.

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