JACKSONVILLE – He's the focus this week because he must be the focus.
Jake Luton indeed is the No. 1 story around the Jaguars this week – and their new starting quarterback knows that while his task isn't easy, it's critically important.
It's also a life-changing opportunity.
"I'm excited," Luton said Wednesday afternoon. "I can't wait to get out there and get to just play football, get to be out there with the guys. I'm real fired up.
That was Luton Wednesday on a media videoconference. It was his first media availability since minutes after the Jaguars selected in him in Round 6 of the 2020 NFL Draft in April – and it came four days before what will be his first NFL start when the Jaguars (1-6) play host to the Houston Texans (1-6) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday. That game also will include Luton's first NFL in-game snaps.
That's a lot of firsts in one week, so it was little surprise that Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's comments regarding Luton Wednesday mixed optimism and caution.
"Unfortunately, it's not going to be easy for a rookie," Gruden said, adding: "If there's a positive, we get to look at a young quarterback with a lot of talent. That's what we see in Jake. The only way you're going to see and find out is if you throw him out there and let him play. Let's let him play and see how he handles the adversity; see how he handles the negative plays as well as the positive plays – and let's see him throw the ball."
It's an opportunity Luton once thought might not come. He sustained a thoracic spine fracture as a sophomore at Oregon State – an injury serious enough that he was taken from the field on a stretcher after briefly being unable to move his arms and legs. He missed the rest of that season and eventually was granted a sixth season of collegiate eligibility.
"It's something I've always dreamed of since I was a little kid, and something I really strived for," Luton said. "I've battled through some things. I've had my journey, just like everyone else has. It's something I take pride in, the road I've had and what it took to get here. I'm proud to be here and ready to get out there and play for the Jags."
Luton's inexperience goes beyond lack of in-game time. Gardner Minshew II started the first seven games which left no first-team repetitions for Luton since training camp. Gruden said Luton's first-time calling plays in the huddle since training camp came Monday.
"It will not be easy for him," Gruden said. "It's his job to be prepared mentally and make sure he goes through the right progressions, handles himself in protections and gets the ball deep to [running back] James Robinson when he hands it off and does things right – what he has been taught this whole process.
"It's going to be a great challenge for him. We feel good about his demeanor, his work ethic – we feel like he's mentally prepared. Now, we just have to wait and see. We'll do the best we can to make it as easy as possible for him.
Gruden added with a laugh:
"But it never is."
Gruden, as Head Coach Doug Marrone has done this week, lauded the physical ability of Luton – who passed for 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns with three interceptions last season.
"There's a lot to like – just what we've seen over the course of the last three or four months," Gruden said, adding that in addition to outstanding demeanor and intelligence Luton "has a great arm. He's got the ability to put touch on the ball. He can stroke it now – that's for sure. We're excited to see him throw the ball downfield."
Gruden also said the 6-feet-6 Luton "has great vision."
"I think he'll be able to get off his first progression and be able to work his eyes and find the next, second and hopefully third guy if we have protection," Gruden said. "From arm talent, he's impressive. He can throw the deep ball, the intermediate stuff … he can throw with touch.
"But on game day, with [Texans pass rushers] J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus and these guys chasing after him, we'll see if that has any impact on his motion. We feel like he has the poise and the knowledge of the offense to have some success. We'll see."
Marrone offered on Wednesday morning that Luton didn't carry himself like a rookie, which appeared to be true when Luton met with the media Wednesday afternoon. He spoke professionally and calmy, minimizing not only his inexperience but the effect of having lost his first NFL preseason – and the chance to have taken professional snaps – to COVID-19.
"I think everyone who's playing in their first year, they're dealing with it right now," Luton said. "It's my job to just get ready and go out and be prepared. This year's a little different for everybody. I'm not the only one. I have to be prepared and be ready for my first snap out there and hopefully I will be.
"I'm taking it day by day, for sure – taking the first-team snaps. I'm trying to do the best I can today and tomorrow and get the team ready to go. I'm sure afterward I'll be able to reflect and take it in a little bit, but right now I'm just focused on today and trying to improve and get ready to go."