JACKSONVILLE – Travis Etienne sees this as an opportunity. A major opportunity.
"I feel great about it," the Jaguars rookie said.
Etienne, the No. 25 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, spoke Saturday afternoon after the second day of Jaguars 2021 rookie minicamp – during which he worked out at wide receiver, with the idea to acclimate to the hybrid position he is expected to play for the Jaguars.
"We thought at the worst-case scenario you have a running back with the skillset of a wide receiver and best-case scenario you have a hybrid player that can do both, and that's what we're hoping to develop with Travis," Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer said.
Etienne, selected with the second of the Jaguars' two first-round selections in the '21 draft, primarily played running back at Clemson. He finished his career as the ACC's all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, developing into a reliable receiver in his final two seasons.
That development was by choice and hard work, with Etienne focusing in collegiate offseasons on improving as a receiver – and working with Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Etienne's teammate at Clemson.
"It really kind of happened organically, just getting used to the playbook and really just honing in on my skills and being comfortable, building my confidence coming out of the backfield," Etienne said. "Me and Trevor have been building that trust, I just feel we had a really good connection and it's kind of translated onto the field."
Etienne, a two-time consensus All-America selection and a three-time first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, rushed for 4,952 yards and 70 touchdowns on 686 career carries in four seasons at Clemson. He caught 102 career passes for 1,155 yards and eight touchdowns and was the ACC Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019.
Eighty-five of his receptions for 1,020 yards and six touchdowns came in his final two seasons, improvement significant enough for Meyer to say immediately after the draft that the Jaguars viewed Etienne as "much more than a running back."
"He's a slash," Meyer said at the time.
Meyer also said at the time that Etienne will be cross-trained. With Lawrence the only quarterback in camp and unable to handoff because of February surgery on his left (non-throwing) labrum, Etienne worked out at receiver this past weekend.
"All his individual training [at rookie camp] was at wide receiver," Meyer said. "That's the reason we drafted him, is the opportunity to be a dual-threat guy. Right now, we're focusing on the fundamentals of wide-receiver play, learning the offense from wide receiver."
Etienne said he and Meyer discussed the move immediately upon his draft selection.
"When I came out here, he brought me into a room, asked me how I felt about it, and I feel great about it," Etienne said. "I feel like it's going to help me maximize my opportunity, maximize my skillset, so I feel like Coach knows what he's doing. He's doing what's best for the team and I feel like it's going to work out really well."
"Football is a game of matchups. I feel like I create a problem outside for a linebacker. We're just trying to get the best matchups for us to go out there and make plays and do what's best for the team. I feel like if I really hone in on my skills and just keep working at it, work on my route running ability and really focus in on what the plan is and buy into that, we'll make plays; we're playmakers."
Etienne said the most important task ahead is "getting my confidence, building repetition."
"I feel like I'm a great athlete, so I'm able to naturally do things, but it's getting that repetition, getting that work in with the receiver coach and really working on my technique," he said. "Once I get that down, I feel like I can be as good of a route runner as anyone.
"It's a daily thing. We're here to get better, we're here to work on our craft. I feel like it's natural, not just catching the ball, but you always want to sharpen your tools, so I feel like if I keep doing that, I'll be an expert at it. It's been working this long, so why would I stop working on it?"