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Three keys for Gardner Minshew's development in 2020

No longer a sixth-round rookie, what does the Jaguars QB1 have to do to be Jacksonville's long-term answer?

Can you believe 12 months ago I was the only one in Jacksonville media sporting a mustache in Gardner Minshew's honor?

(Okay, I did recruit some other First Coast News employees to join me. But still)

Credit: First Coast News
(From L to R) Meteorologist Steve Fundaro, Anchor Jeff Valin and Sports Anchor Mia O'Brien sports "Minshew Mustaches" on April 27, 2019, shortly after the Jaguars drafted Minshew in the 2019 NFL Draft.

But seriously: that tweet is from a little over a year ago. Minshew entered last year's season-opener a little less than 11 months ago. In a year where the weeks have moved like molasses and yet the months have flown by (thanks, quarantine), it's important to keep this in perspective: if a year ago today most of Duval County didn't know who Gardner Minshew II was, where will he be a year from now? 

Still the Jaguars starter? A budding superstar?

Or yet another question at the quarterback position in Jacksonville?

If he is to be the long-term answer in Duval County, here are three things Minshew will have to improve upon in Year Two.

Ball Security

Minshew was extremely transparent about this in his lone media availability of this wacky, 2020 off-season.

"The biggest thing [I have to improve upon] is just the ball security and the fumbles that come with it," Minshew reflected. "Just having that awareness of when to call a play dead, when to keep pushing and try to make a big play."

Perhaps the only negative stat on Minshew's NFL resume: in 14 games, he had 13 fumbles. It’s allegedly the reason Tom Coughlin – I mean, Doug Marrone – pulled Minshew after the London game in which he had two. As Minshew noted, the fumble numbers did improve when he was re-inserted into the starting line-up Week 14.

But if he struggles with ball security once again in 2020, it's no longer "rookie mistakes." Minshew knows that.

Pocket Prescence

Minshew can move. More often than not, it's what creates that signature, "Minshew Magic."

6Points QB Trainer Denny Thompson has reviewed Minshew's 2019 tape -- and worked with Minshew himself this off-season. He says that Minshew's scrambling wasn't always necessary.

"If you look at a lot of the times we saw the big, exciting plays of him moving around the pocket -- he didn't really have to," Thompson said back in May. "

"Can you sit your feet in the pocket, and can you throw from the pocket? And can we stop putting our offensive linemen in bad situations? Because when you move around, they don't know where you're at."

Thompson believes that first-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden -- often referred to as a "quarterback whisperer" -- can help Minshew grow more comfortable within the pocket.

And Minshew's head coach believes that aforementioned offensive line will take the next step, too.

“I’m excited about not just Cam [Robinson] but that whole group," Doug Marrone said at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. "I think, as a group, I'm really looking for that group to step up."

The Jaguars allowed a middle-of-the-road 42 sacks in 2019. Improved numbers would certainly be an additional feather in Minshew's cap.

Attack Early

Of Minshew's six wins in 2019, four came in come-from-behind fashion. The Jaguars trailed in 14 of their 16 games. 

On the surface, for a sixth-round draft pick to do what he did, that's incredible. But Minshew knows he and the Jaguars let a few get away.

"More than anything, we gotta give ourselves more chances than we did last year. That's going to include jumping out earlier," he said.

As was on full display in Minshew's first home start at TIAA Bank Field (Week Three, during a nationally-televised Thursday Night game against the Titans), he has the skill-set to attack early. He posted his second-highest QBR of the season (108.2) as the Jaguars jumped out to an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter -- their largest first-half lead of the season -- and cruised to a 20-7 win. 

Minshew's first career start (the week prior at Houston) also proves how willing to attack a defense the Washington State product is -- if the gameplan allows. Minshew attempted 33 passes in that 13-12 loss to the Texans, but 17 of those pass attempts came on the final two drives of the game. In other words, Minshew threw more passes in less than a quarter than he did the remaining three-plus quarters. Certainly, the Jaguars were down two scores and playing catch-up. But considering they scored on both of those drives should still haunt anyone who was a part of that game-plan: imagine if Minshew had been allowed to air it out earlier in the game?

It's up to Marrone and Gruden to come up with a scheme that lets "The 'Stache" let it fly.

If they can do that, we'll all be able to wear our mustaches with pride in 2020.