Tagged in: Jacksonville

Jacksonville Jaguars’ Travis Etienne on track with rehab after missing ’21 with foot injury

Missing his entire rookie season because of a foot injury was rough on Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr., but the 25th overall pick in 2021 managed to find a bit of a silver lining.

At least he wasn’t as fully immersed in Urban Meyer’s disastrous 11-month tenure — which ended shortly before 1 a.m. on Dec. 16 — as his teammates were.

“Just seeing the results, you’re definitely like, ‘Whew, if there was any year to miss, I missed a great one,'” he said.

Jokes aside, Etienne is happy to be back on the field for the beginning of the Jaguars’ voluntary offseason conditioning program under new head coach Doug Pederson.

He stated he’s still limited in some of his weight-room work but is doing “the majority of the stuff” in terms of on-field work and is 85-90% recovered from the Lisfranc injury to his left foot that he suffered during a preseason match last August.

He expects to be fully cleared by training camp. Etienne said the only time the injury still bothers him is after a long workout. Then it’s a little sore.

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“It’s actually crazy because I was talking to my mom about this the other day,” Etienne said. “If I didn’t know I had a screw in my foot, I couldn’t tell. I feel like that’s a testament to where I’m at in my transition and how I’m healing.

“The screw is there. I think I will take it out. I could leave it there forever. I know most guys say leave it there, it never bothers them, but I just don’t want to be 40 years old with a screw in my foot, really.”

Etienne makes light of the injury now, but he wasn’t handling things as well in the days and months after his surgery.

The pain was pretty intense in the first 48 hours, and he couldn’t put any weight on his foot for six weeks, which left him homebound and a little depressed.

It wasn’t until he was able to get back into the Jaguars’ facility to start rehab that he started feeling better.

“I didn’t realize it then, but I kind of was in a depressed state, just not being able to do the things I love to do,” Etienne said. “It was my foot, so I couldn’t do anything. So it was just really weird, and I really didn’t realize how much it took a toll on me, but having my mom there, she kind of helped me just stay in tune with myself and not let me lose myself. When I was able to get back into the building to the guys, that really helped me a lot, just seeing them each and every day and just living through them.”

It’s still too early to know how the Jaguars plan to use Etienne this season. Meyer envisioned a Percy Harvin-type role for Etienne as a rookie, which is similar to the way the San Francisco 49ers use Deebo Samuel.

Etienne said he’d be fine with that, but he might have to be the Jaguars’ feature running back early in the season if James Robinson isn’t fully recovered from the Achilles injury he suffered last December.

Regardless of how the Jaguars use him, they need him to produce the kinds of big plays he did at Clemson. The Jaguars had 31 big plays (runs of 20 or more yards and receptions of 30 or more yards) the last two seasons, which ranked last in the NFL.

Etienne was one of the most explosive players in the country during his four seasons at Clemson. He led all players in the NCAA with 55 runs of 20 or more yards from 2017 to ’20. On those big plays, he scored 21 touchdowns and rushed for 2,053 yards, an average of 37.3 yards per rush.

Etienne also had six receptions of 30 or more yards, giving him 61 explosive plays.

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Chicago Bears to hire Indianapolis Colts DC Matt Eberflus as head coach

The Chicago Bears will hire Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus as their head coach.

Eberflus, 51, also was considered a candidate for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head-coaching vacancy. He will join new general manager Ryan Poles in taking over a Bears team that went 6-11 in 2021 under Matt Nagy and has missed the playoffs in nine of the past 11 seasons.

Chicago also interviewed Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell for the job.

Eberflus has spent the past four seasons as the Colts’ defensive coordinator under coach Frank Reich. His defenses finished in the top 10 in scoring three times, including being tied for ninth in 2021 at 21.5 points per match.

Eberflus will inherit a Bears team that ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense in 2021 but struggled offensively and endured instability at quarterback, where Andy Dalton alternated as the starter with rookie Justin Fields.

The first big question for Eberflus in Chicago will be selecting an offensive coordinator, since a big part of the job for the new coach and GM will be solidifying the quarterback position that has haunted the founding NFL franchise for decades.

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The Bears do not have a first-round draft pick in 2022 because they traded that selection to the New York Giants to select Fields, who showed flashes of potential as a passer and as a runner but concluded with just seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Chicago went 2-8 in the 10 games Fields started this past season.

The Bears made two postseason appearances in their four years under Nagy but last won a playoff game in 2010. They are 1-3 in the postseason since appearing in Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season, a game the Colts won.

Eberflus, a former linebacker at the University of Toledo who began his coaching career at his alma mater and hometown school, also interviewed for head-coaching jobs last year after his third season with Indianapolis, where he developed a reputation for demanding relentless effort out of his players.

Eberflus’ high standards included counting “loafs” — a term former Bears coach Lovie Smith also used in his Tampa 2 defense. Eberflus refined his style and terminology during a seven-year stint in Dallas, where he worked with Rod Marinelli, who, like Smith, came from the coaching tree of Hall of Famer Tony Dungy.

Now Eberflus will be the second coordinator to leave Indianapolis in two seasons.

Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles filled their head-coaching vacancy with Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, who took a handful of Colts assistants with him.

It’s unclear how many, if any, assistants will follow Eberflus from Indy or Philly to Chicago.

When Eberflus started his coaching career at Toledo in 1992, he spent nine years with the Rockets as a student assistant, grad assistant, outside linebackers and defensive backs coach.

He spent the next eight seasons as Missouri’s defensive coordinator (2001-08) before making the jump to the NFL, where he coached linebackers in Cleveland (2009-10) and Dallas (2011-17) before joining the Colts ahead of the 2018 season.

In Eberflus’ first season in Indianapolis, the Colts improved from 30th to 10th in scoring defense, from 30th to 11th in total defense and from 26th to eighth in rush defense.

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Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to interview with Jacksonville Jaguars

Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett stated he plans to interview with the Jacksonville Jaguars about their head-coaching vacancy next week.

The Packers (13-3) have clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed and lone first-round playoff bye, so they won’t be playing when the postseason starts next week.

“I owed it to this organization, all these players, we wanted to wrap up that No. 1 seed,” Hackett said Thursday.

“That was so important to do. And it’s absolutely an honor to be even considered for something like this. So we’re going to do it during the bye because we wrapped up that No. 1 seed. We’re really excited about that opportunity. I mean, it’s a dream for any football coach to even have an opportunity to potentially become a head coach.”

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Hackett, 42, was the Jaguars’ quarterbacks coach from 2015 to 2016 and offensive coordinator from 2016 to 2018 before getting fired in the middle of the 2018 season. The Jaguars reached the AFC Championship Game in the 2017 season.

The Jaguars (2-14) fired Urban Meyer on Dec. 16 and have been searching for his successor while interim coach Darrell Bevell finishes up the season.

They interviewed former Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson last week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Monday and former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is also anticipated to interview for the Jaguars head coaching job as early as Friday, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The Jaguars requested permission to talk with Leftwich during the regular season window.

Jacksonville has also requested interviews with Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

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Jacksonville Jaguars end 20-game losing streak with last-second field goal

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ 20-game losing streak has ended.

A 23-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Sunday snapped the Jaguars’ skid, which was the second longest in NFL history.

It was the first time the team has won in 399 days, dating back to beating the Indianapolis Colts in the 2020 season opener.

The Jaguars won on Matthew Wright’s 53-yard field goal as time expired, which was set up by a bit of a sneaky play on fourth-and-8. The Jaguars gave a look like they were going to throw a Hail Mary, but quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed a quick 9-yard pass to Laviska Shenault and a quick timeout set up Wright’s third field goal of the game.

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The Jaguars hadn’t made a field goal in the first five weeks of the season, but Wright made all three of his attempts Sunday.

The Jaguars have made all 15 field goal attempts they have tried in their eight matches in London.

Lawrence threw for 319 yards and one touchdown, Marvin Jones caught seven passes for 100 yards and one touchdown, and defensive end Josh Allen made a critical stop on a fourth-and-1 run that set up the Jaguars with the ball on the Miami 46-yard line for their final possession.

Lawrence is the first rookie quarterback to win a game in London; rookie QBs were 0-5 in London entering Sunday. His 319 passing yards are also the most by a rookie quarterback in London, beating the previous mark of 309 by former Jaguar Gardner Minshew in 2019.

The Jaguars won the 2020 season opener but lost their next 15 to close out the season — which ensured they would have the top pick in the draft, which they used on Lawrence — and then started this season 0-5.

That stretch of 20 consecutive losses was the second-longest losing streak in NFL history behind only the 26-game streak by the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers, however, were an expansion team in 1976.

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Jacksonville Jaguars place WR DJ Chark on IR with fractured ankle

The Jacksonville Jaguars placed wide receiver DJ Chark on injured reserve Monday due to a fractured left ankle he suffered early in Thursday night’s loss to Cincinnati, and head coach Urban Meyer stated it’s unclear how long Chark will be out.

In addition, the Jaguars placed right guard A.J. Cann on IR with a right MCL injury and activated offensive tackle Walker Little from the reserve-COVID list.

“It’s going to be awhile,” Meyer said of Chark and Cann. “Someone has to step up. [OL Ben] Bartch went in and played, played pretty well when he was in there. He’s been one of our most improved players.”

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If Chark’s injury ends his season, Thursday could be the last match Chark plays for the Jaguars.

He was in the final year of his rookie contract and was facing a prove-it year after Meyer called him out in the spring by saying he needed to be tougher and play more physical.

Chark had gotten off to a slow start in 2021, with just seven catches on 22 targets for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Chark missed a month of camp and preseason after having surgery to repair a broken finger on his right hand.

He said recently the plate they placed in his hand still remains and the finger does still bother him at times.

The Jaguars drafted Chark in the second round in 2018. He had a rough rookie season but rebounded in 2019 by catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns and making the Pro Bowl.

Chark caught 53 passes for 706 yards and five touchdowns last season and he admitted he let his frustration with the way the season was going and the inconsistent play from the quarterbacks bleed into his on-field performance.

Cann is in the final year of a three-year, $15.05 million contract he signed before the 2019 season. Cann has missed just five games since the Jaguars drafted him in the third round in 2015.

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Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark fractures left ankle

Thursday’s game did not get off to an ideal start for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. was carted off the field due to an ankle injury suffered during the team’s first drive. He incurred the setback when he was blocking during a running play and got rolled up on as the action went his direction.

The Jaguars revealed he was ruled out for the remainder of the match.  Chark had seven catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the first three games, which were all Jacksonville losses.

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The LSU product was a Pro Bowler in 2019 with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in a breakout effort after the Jaguars selected him with a second-round pick in 2018.

He was solid again in 2020 with 706 receiving yards and five touchdowns and figured to be a key piece in the team’s offense this year as rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence adjusted to the NFL.

However, look for the combination of Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr. to see more targets while Chark is sidelined. 

It’s unclear at this point if the injury is season ending.

If it is, it could be the last game Chark plays for the Jaguars. He was in the final year of his rookie contract.

Chark missed a month of camp and preseason after having surgery to repair a broken finger on his right hand. He said recently the plate they placed in his hand still remains and the finger does still bother him at times.

The Jaguars also lost starting right guard A.J. Cann to a knee injury in the second quarter.

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Pittsburgh Steelers acquire CB Ahkello Witherspoon from Seattle Seahawks

After an initial 53-man roster that was short on cornerbacks, the Steelers have fortified the position by obtaining Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks for a 2023 fifth-round pick, the teams revealed.

Witherspoon, 26, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was expected to compete for the starting job at left cornerback, but Seattle moved D.J. Reed over to the left side and Tre Flowers into the starting role at right cornerback, making Witherspoon a trade candidate. A day earlier, Seattle traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sidney Jones.

Witherspoon was unsatisfied by being relegated to a backup role, a source told ESPN’s Brady Henderson. The Steelers will take on $1.5 million of Witherspoon’s salary, while the Seahawks save that amount against their cap. However, Seattle is still on the hook for $1.25 million in dead money in 2021 and 2022 from his signing bonus.

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Witherspoon was taken in the third round by San Francisco in 2017 and started 33 of 47 career games with the 49ers in four seasons. He recorded 116 tackles and four interceptions and had 24 passes defended.

The Steelers initially had just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster following cuts: Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Joe Haden. They added one more a day later, signing Arthur Maulet after moving three other players to injured reserve.

Before adding Maulet, defensive coordinator Keith Butler expressed apprehension about entering the season with so few cornerbacks.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks,” Butler said. “We’ve got guys who can play different positions. Cam can play different positions. He can play the nickel. Forty-two [Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason.

“We think we’re OK right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in never-never land, we’ll see what happens.”

Witherspoon gives the Steelers depth at cornerback behind veterans Haden and Sutton, who emerged late in training camp as the likely slot cornerback after Mike Hilton’s departure. With Sutton in the slot, undrafted free agent Pierre was slated to be the outside cornerback opposite Haden.

The outside cornerback depth is young and relatively unproven, and Witherspoon’s experience elevates the position group.

The Steelers released defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to make room on the roster for Witherspoon.

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Trevor Lawrence bounces back from early sack, turns in solid debut as Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback

Trevor Lawrence’s first NFL snap ended with a sack that nearly turned into a fumble, but the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback didn’t let that rattle him.

The 2021 No. 1 draft pick bounced back from that inauspicious start and turned in a solid but unspectacular performance in the Jaguars’ 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday night.

Lawrence threw for 71 yards — including a 35-yarder to Marvin Jones Jr. to convert a third down — but failed to lead the first-team offense to any points in his two possessions and admittedly held on to the ball too long at times.

But he also made some good throws and left his head coach feeling pretty good about the former Clemson standout — though there’s a lot of improvement needed.

“I asked [passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] how he played, and he said he did pretty good,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I thought the ball to his left right in front of us, I think it was on third down, he really anticipated a nice out cut, scrambled and delivered a nice one to Marvin Jones.

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“He certainly wasn’t awestruck. We’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to protect him better. And we’ve got to get all our wideouts healthy and just play better.”

Lawrence went 6-for-9 and, per NFL NextGen Stats, completed 3-of-4 of those passes into tight windows, which equaled the best completion percentage on tight-window throws by a Jaguars quarterback in 2020.

The offense also was much more effective under Lawrence (74 yards) than under Gardner Minshew II, who threw for 47 yards and an interception and led the offense to 46 yards in three possessions.

“I feel like the first time out there, I felt comfortable, felt poised,” Lawrence said. “Obviously, the first play’s not kind of what you want for the first play, but after that, I thought we did a good job. We communicated well up front. They did a really good job of protection. At least one of those sacks was on me, for sure, just holding the ball too long. That’s something I’ll work on. Just maneuvering in the pocket is something I’ve always got to work on.

“Other than that, I missed an easy one to Marvin, a little quick out I wish I would have hit. But other than that, I felt good out there. I think we were seeing it, all on the same page. There’s obviously things to clean up, but I thought it was a pretty good day.”

The biggest thing for Lawrence to clean up is getting rid of the ball quicker, which he did at times on quick throws to LaViska Shenault. Meyer stated he would need to look at the film to figure out why Lawrence was hesitant to get rid of the ball, but there were times when the signal-caller had to wait for receivers to get clear.

Lawrence accepted to having a bit of nerves, but he stated those went away quickly, as he felt more comfortable on his second drive than on his first.

“The first play you’re a little bit, especially first game here in the NFL, you’re a little bit nervous; but after that, you’re just playing ball,” Lawrence said. “Definitely felt that [comfort] setting in.

“I usually typically get nervous before the first game of any season anyway, so that’s pretty standard. I was excited. I was ready to get out there. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been my dream.”

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QB Trevor Lawrence signs $36.8 million rookie contract with Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence signed his four-year rookie contract Monday, clearing the way for him to attend the start of training camp in three weeks.

Under the NFL’s rookie slotting system, Lawrence’s deal was projected to be worth $36.8 million and included a $24.1 million signing bonus. He will count $6.7 million against the salary cap in 2021.

The contract also incorporates a fifth-year option that is attached to every rookie deal for first-round selections.

A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that details of the contract includes: Lawrence’s signing bonus will be paid within 15 days and the quarterback is deemed to have passed his physical for signing bonus purposes.

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There is no offset language in the contract, meaning that he would still receive the full amount of guaranteed money left in his contract even if he were to be released and sign with another team.

The majority of Lawrence’s compensation will come in his roster bonuses in 2022, 2023 and 2024.

He will earn that bonus if he is on the 90-man roster on the third day after the mandatory reporting date.

Lawrence will earn his roster bonus even if he is on the active non-football injury list.

With Lawrence under contract, Jacksonville has now signed six of its nine draft picks. Running back Travis Etienne (first round), cornerback Tyson Campbell (second) and offensive tackle Walker Little (second) remains unsigned.

Lawrence is anticipated to be an immediate starter in Year 1. He went 34-2 at Clemson, recording the third-best winning percentage by a starting quarterback (minimum 30 starts) in college football since 1978.

He finished his college career undefeated in regular-season play and led the Tigers to the national championship as a freshman in 2018.

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Usman knocks out Masvidal to win rematch

Kamaru Usman dominated his fight the first time he faced Jorge Masvidal, but he wasn’t thrilled because there were so many unanswered questions left. Masvidal had taken that fight on six days’ notice and needed to cut 20 pounds to make weight.

That seemed to take something off Usman’s one-sided victory.

Saturday’s rematch in the main event of UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Florida, was just as one-sided, but this time, he left no doubts.

He became the first man to knock out Masvidal when he landed with a perfectly thrown straight right hand. He dropped Masvidal hard and finished him with three hammer fists on the ground, forcing referee Herb Dean to stop it at 1:02 of the second.

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“Thank you to my man Jorge,” Usman said. “You elevated me. You made me go through the workshop to sharpen up my tools to put on a performance like that.”

There was no controversy, no complaints from Masvidal’s side and nothing but respect for a man who is quickly on his way to becoming the greatest welterweight in UFC history.

That’s a big feat considering what Georges St-Pierre accomplished, but in his last seven fights, he’s defeated Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Masvidal twice.

That’s a Murderer’s Row if ever there was one, and he knocked out Covington, Burns and Masvidal in the process.

Masvidal paid tribute, saying, “He showed me something he didn’t show me the first time.”

Usman was confident after going through several training camps with Trevor Whitman, a striking expert who has worked hard on sharpening Usman’s stand-up. It showed on Saturday, as he tagged Masvidal several times with clean combinations in the first round.

Usman, a former Division II national wrestling champion, has an extremely complete all-around game.

“I know with my fundamentals, I’m the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet right now,” he said.

There aren’t a lot of people outside of Jon Jones’ camp who would argue that right now.

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