JACKSONVILLE – Travis Etienne Jr. was good last season. Very good at times.
The good news for the Jaguars and Etienne is Head Coach Doug Pederson said recently there's a very real chance the third-year running back can be better in 2023 and beyond.
"I really do," Pederson said.
That's a common thought among Jaguars coaches – that the experience Etienne gained in his first season in the NFL will make him a better runner.
"It's going to be a huge difference for him," Pederson said.
Etienne, the No. 25 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, missed his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury. He returned in 2022 for his second NFL season – and first actually playing – and quickly emerged as the starting running back.
Etienne in 2022 was one of the NFL's most-consistent young big-play runners – and running backs coach Bernie Parmalee agreed with Pederson that Etienne will benefit from a year's worth of continuity with the offensive line.
"As runners, you have to be in tune with those lines," Parmalee said. "You have to help set things up. You have to hit your landmarks. You have to press it. You have to understand how to leverage the linebackers. You have to understand the combination blocks of the linemen, who's working with whom to block whom, and you have to anticipate where the play may hit.
"You can hit the home run if you get it, but you want to be consistent."
With that in mind, Parmalee said a primary focus throughout the offseason with Etienne was patience – knowing when to accelerate for the big gain and when to set up runs using blocking, angles and leverage.
"Anybody can get the ball and go," Parmalee said. "Travis is talented enough he can make a lot of things look easy. But you leave so much out there when you don't stick to the plan. It's more about patience, too.
"That's what we worked on this whole offseason: Understanding blocking schemes, understanding leverages of linebackers, understanding your read, understanding your track, being patient enough to press it. Can you do it in practice? Then the big challenge, can you do it in a game?
"Then you have to believe and trust in that process. 'I want to take a hit.' Nope, nope, nope. Hit your landmark to get this linebacker captured. Then you hit it and then it's a home run."
Parmalee and Pederson said Etienne without question grasped the importance. Parmalee smiled when asked if he thought there were more big plays waiting in 2023 for Etienne, who rushed for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns on 220 carries in 2022.
"There's a lot more – a lot more," Parmalee said. "We talked about it every day. He knows it, too. It's one thing when you talk about it as a coach and the player doesn't realize it. But when the player realizes what you're talking about is true and he's going to do everything he has to do to make sure he gets better, it's going to bode well."
Said Pederson, "We've seen it this offseason; he's progressed nicely there. Once we get the pads on and we start in our run periods, we'll see how he'll see the hole better. It just goes back to last year being kind of a rookie season for him. It's like in the pass game: There's a lot to learn, a lot to know and understand and, he's really picked it up well.
"I'm excited for him for this year and what he can do, and even more to build off last year."
- Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell on the versatility of safety Antonio Johnson, a fifth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2023 NFL Draft: "He can do a lot of things. It's a matter of finding what we want him to do, so we're trying him at multiple positions. He's able to play the nickel and safety. It's whatever package we want to put him in or whatever he's able to handle. He has a skillset to do that and we're just excited about it and we wanted continue to see him progress through camp. Once we get the pads on, we'll just go from there."