The Jaguars Need to Save Trevor Lawrence from Urban Meyer

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2021

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 12: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts after the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall this past April, it was supposed to be a watershed moment for the franchise. The long-struggling Jaguars finally had themselves an elite quarterback prospect, one from a premier program and one who carried few concerns.

Lawrence was not Blaine Gabbert or Blake Bortles. He was touted as a generational talent who would quickly become the next big thing.

"Lawrence is living up to the hype he received as the top high school quarterback in the country and looks like a Week 1 franchise quarterback with the upside to win multiple MVPs, and only injuries or an incompetent franchise will put him on a path toward failure," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote after the draft.

The 22-year-old has been healthy throughout his inaugural campaign and has played 99 percent of the offensive snaps. However, he has too often been undermined by incompetency—not at the franchise level but at the head coaching level.

For as talented as Lawrence is, he's still a rookie who needs guidance, support and a strong culture to become an elite pro. Rookie head coach Urban Meyer is providing none of that, and if the Jaguars hope to avoid seeing Lawrence become the next Tim Couch or David Carr, something has to change.


A Culture Problem

Lawrence was part of a blue-chip program at Clemson, and he was used to winning. Coming to Jacksonville was always going to represent a bit of a culture shock. The Jaguars are not a talented team—they "earned" the No. 1 pick for a reason—and they were going to present something foreign to Lawrence: losing.

By October, he had lost as many games as he had throughout high school and college combined.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

Jaguars’ QB Trevor Lawrence now has lost as many NFL games as he did during his entire high school and college careers combined.

However, this was part of the reason why Jaguars franchise owner Shad Khan hired Meyer. The 57-year-old coach had won at Florida and Ohio State, and he was supposed to know how to implement a winning culture in Jacksonville.

"He's a winner, a leader, and a champion. He's the man we want and need in Jacksonville," Khan said at Meyer's introductory press conference.

Fourteen weeks into the 2021 season, and the culture—or at least the environment—seems to be no better than it was a year ago. The Jags are a two-win team, and Meyer has reportedly clashed with both his players and the coaches he hired—on top of making several questionable decisions.

For all his experience in college, Meyer doesn't seem to "get it" at this level.

It was fair to wonder if Meyer knew what it took to be a pro coach when he signed former Florida player and friend Tim Tebow as a tight end during the offseason—Tebow last played in 2012. Then there was the incident during which Meyer stayed in Ohio following a game against the Cincinnati Bengals instead of flying home with the team.

According to a report from NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, Meyer has since:

• Angered wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. so badly that he left the team facility and had to be coaxed back by other staff members.

• Labeled his assistants as losers, "challenging each coach individually to explain when they've ever won and forcing them to defend their resumes."

• Upset his team to the point that "several" players complained to opponents during the Los Angeles Rams game that they aren't treated like adults.

When asked about Pelissero's report, Meyer bristled at the notion that information came from within the organization.

"That's nonsense. ... If there is a source, that source is unemployed," Meyer said, per John Reid of the Florida Times-Union. "I mean, within seconds, if there's some source that's doing that."

Instead of bringing a winning culture to Jacksonville, Meyer has brought an authoritarian mentality that simply doesn't work at the pro level. He's brought turmoil in the locker room (allegedly) and few positive results.

It's hard to imagine that any of this has convinced Lawrence that losing is part of the process, that things are going to get better or that football is going to be fun again. That's a problem.

Football players are professionals, but they're also people. For anyone, in any profession, it's hard to be great at your job when you dread coming to work.


Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

On-The-Field Issues

We cannot dismiss the environment Meyer is creating in Jacksonville if it is indeed an unpleasant one—and to be fair to Meyer, these "leaks" could be unfounded. However, it would be easier to digest any internal issues if the Jaguars, and specifically Lawrence, were showing improvements on the field.

The big problem is that Jacksonville—which just lost 20-0 to the Tennessee Titans—looks as out of sorts as they did in Week 1. The Jaguars rank 27th in points allowed and 31st in scoring. Even if Meyer isn't solely responsible, he hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Joe Cullen.

And there's a good chance that Meyer has little, if anything, to do with the defense:

Demetrius Harvey @Demetrius82

#Jaguars HC Urban Meyer was asked about Andre Cisco playing more (again). He said “Cisco is playing a little bit more, I believe, I don’t have his numbers in front of me” Cisco played 0 defensive snaps yesterday.

The bigger issue is that Meyer is not supporting Lawrence offensively. The lack of talent is an obvious issue, but Meyer has also actively gone away from one of Jacksonville's best players. Running back James Robinson has been benched on two separate occasions after fumbling against the Falcons and Rams, to the dismay of Lawrence.

"I'm playing the game, and stuff happens on the sideline with coaching decisions," Lawrence said, per ESPN's Michael DiRocco. "I don't really get into that, but I know, and I voiced my opinion: James is one of our best players, and he's got to be in the game."

Meyer hinted that Robinson's lack of playing time was injury-related, but he re-entered the Rams game during garbage time. It's also worth noting that Carlos Hyde fumbled against L.A. and saw more snaps than Robinson.

Meyer said that he himself would be "more involved" in game-day personnel decisions moving forward. A week later against Tennessee, Robinson ran only six times for four yards and wasn't targeted in the passing game.

Personnel decisions aside—and regardless of whether Meyer even plays a role in them—Jacksonville needs to do a better job of giving Lawrence easy completions to build his confidence and timing. The Jags also need to improve his protection.

Lawrence has been hit 43 times and has been under pressure on 22.9 percent of his dropbacks.

While one could argue that Bevell is responsible for the offense and deserves the blame, Meyer is the one overseeing the whole operation.

The operation has not benefited Lawrence, who has thrown a league-high 14 interceptions and holds a passer rating of just 68.9. Improvement? We haven't seen it. Lawrence has had a passer rating above 90.0 in only three games, and he's coming off arguably his worst performance of the season.

Against Tennessee, Lawrence finished 24-of-40 for 221 yards and four interceptions. He's still showing rookie tendencies, like chucking balls up for grabs and bailing on plays before they have time to fully develop.

Pete Prisco @PriscoCBS

Out of bunch on right, Jones gets open but Lawrence bails rather than stepping up and never sees him https://t.co/6QeHeOTNv7

Lawrence should be showing signs of progress, and he isn't. That should be setting off alarm bells in Jacksonville, even if the Jaguars aren't willing to place all of the blame on Meyer.

If Meyer and Bevell cannot adequately develop Lawrence, the Jaguars had better find someone who can get the job done.


What are Jacksonville's Options?

If things continue to go south this season and/or players or coaches come forward to firm reports instead of "leaks," the Jaguars and Khan may have no choice but to move on from Meyer. This roster won't improve without an influx of talent, and players won't be eager to join a dicey situation.

Without an upgrade in talent, smart game-planning and a supportive environment, Lawrence won't get better. He won't magically take a sudden leap in Year 2, and if the Jaguars are OK with that, then what are they trying to build?

If they're looking to select another quarterback in three years—like the New York Jets did after drafting and ruining Sam Darnold—then they should stick with the status quo. If not, they need to find a way to save Lawrence from Meyer.

Jacksonville should think long and hard about bringing in an experienced NFL coach like Jim Caldwell or an up-and-coming offensive coach like Eric Bieniemy and pulling the plug on the whole Meyer experiment. However, it seems Khan is willing to be a little more patient with the guy he hired less than a year ago.

According to ESPN, Khan plans to "stay the course" with Meyer—or, at least, that was the case before Sunday.

There is some merit to exercising patience in the NFL. Kliff Kingsbury won just five games in his first season with the Arizona Cardinals with No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Now in Year 3, Kingsbury and Murray look like a championship-caliber duo.

But if Khan isn't going to make a coaching change, Jacksonville cannot proceed with this version of Meyer and the situations surrounding him. Khan needs to make it clear that Meyer needs to be more of a pro's coach and more of a pro himself. General manager Trent Baalke needs to remove Meyer from roster decisions.

The Jaguars also need to pull the plug on Bevell, who isn't helping Lawrence grow as a passer. They need to examine other OC options and, preferably, leave Meyer out of that process as much as possible.

Perhaps the Jags could look at Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher, who has helped quickly develop Joe Burrow. Perhaps one of Kingsbury's assistants would be willing to come to Jacksonville and help do with Lawrence what the Cardinals have done with Murray.

What Meyer is doing isn't working, and for Lawrence's benefit, the Jaguars cannot allow things to continue as they have.

Then again, Meyer may be so sick of the losing, the criticism and the professional standard asked of him that he walks away on his own.

Trevor Sikkema @TampaBayTre

Mike Vrabel was on Urban Meyer’s coaching staff at Ohio State https://t.co/E5v0xfiQWd

Meyer certainly doesn't appear to be enjoying his first season in Jacksonville. It's doubtful anyone else is either.


*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.