Jaguars open season with a lot on the line

QB, head coach and GM’s future with team could depend on young squad

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Gardner Minshew said he’s will play for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season as if his job depended on success.

It probably does.

But the same goes for head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell.

The team that’s only had one winning season in the past 12 years will open the season at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Indianapolis Colts. And they will do it with 16 rookies and seven second-year players on the roster.

Given a mandate by owner Shad Kahn to be a winner, the front office is wagering their futures with the franchise on a healthy dose of youthful exuberance.

“I love this team,” Caldwell said. “It’s going to be a young team … but we feel good about it.”

After dealing veterans like defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, running back Leonard Fournette and safety Ronnie Harrison in the offseason, the Jaguars clearly are committed to a youth movement.

Minshew is quick to discount Jacksonville is trying to lose to improve its chances to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in next spring’s draft.

“People see it from afar, and they say, ‘Oh, they’re losing their biggest names,’” Minshew said. “That’s not how we feel. If we’re tanking, Coach Marrone, [General Manager] Dave Caldwell and me are probably going to be out of jobs. A lot of those other guys in the locker room are not going to let that crap happen. That’s absolutely not anything we envision happening.”

Minshew was a sixth-round draft pick in 2018. He played at four difference colleges, before finding a home with the Jaguars. He quickly won the support of his teammates — and the Jaguars fanbase — with his flashy style, both on and off the field, after high-priced free agent Nick Foles was injured in the first quarter of the first game last year.

Minshew had flashes of success during his rookie season, throwing for 21 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He completed nearly 61% of his passes for 3,271 yards.

Minshew knows those numbers will have to improve if Jacksonville is going to be successful.

“Yeah, I mean, we’ve come a long way in this last year,” Minshew said. It’s been a lot of fun. But you know what, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

“I’m super grateful for the people I’ve had around me, that have gotten me to this point, that have helped me prepare for this. And I’m appreciative for the faith that people have put into me, to give me this position. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, and it’s something that I look forward to earning every day, every week.”

But he can’t get better without a better supporting cast. Only four other teams had a worse run defense. And with Fournette gone, the Jaguars are going to shuttle as many as four running backs — three who’ve never had an NFL carry — into the rotation.

“Experience really does help you learn,” Minshew said. “I know from my last year getting those reps is better than any classroom learning or practice learning that you could do, but I’m also very excited. With that youth comes a lot of energy, a lot of excitement — and not much ego.

“I think everybody’s coming together in a great way. More than anything, I’m just excited to get everybody out there for the first time and really see what we’ve got.”

Jacksonville opens with consecutive games against AFC South opponents. Following a Sept. 20 trip to Tennessee, the Jaguars will enter a four-game stretch — Miami, Cincinnati, Houston and Detroit — that should help define their season.

And it should help determine the futures of the coaching staff, front office and, perhaps, the quarterback.

“I’m excited to see what we can do,” Marrone said. “A lot of those things have changed. As it goes, I think it will start building up and building up. That’s how we want to do it with our players.

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