Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence has experienced his share of rookie ups and downs after 2 games

John Reid
Florida Times-Union

Trevor Lawrence has undoubtfully already experienced his share of rookie ups and downs after his first two games. 

On Sunday against the Denver Broncos, he quickly moved the Jaguars downfield on their opening drive, completing five of his first seven passes for 73 yards that included a 25-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr.

Then for the rest of the game, Lawrence was held to 45 yards passing and the Jaguars lost 23-13 at TIAA Bank Field. 

After two games, Lawrence has thrown five interceptions with a less than stellar 57.1 quarterback rating after completing 50 percent of his passes for 450 yards. 

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Like many of the great quarterbacks before him, Lawrence has not figured it all out yet. Hall of Fame Troy Aikman didn't have it figured out either as a hot-shot rookie, throwing 18 interceptions with nine touchdowns as a rookie in 1989.

Hall of Famer Payton Manning experienced his share of first-year mishaps, too, in 1998. He had a 56.7% completion rate with 28 interceptions as a rookie.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) scrambles out of the pocket against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Lawrence has had some plays he would like to have back because of bad reads and forced throws into coverage.

Still, there is no cause for alarm because much better days are expected ahead.

Lawrence, though, has not wilted from the weight of enormous expectations. He's ready for the next challenge this Sunday against the 2-0 Arizona Cardinals, who has a stout defense led by veteran pass rushers Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt.

Jones leads the NFL with 5.0 sacks. Watt has 17 career sacks against the Jaguars, the second most among NFL teams he faced other than the Titans (18.0).

''I feel like I'm learning a lot each week, and I feel I'm getting better,'' Lawrence said Wednesday. ''I know this past game, you look at the stats or whatever, it doesn't look great. But I felt there were a lot of things where I grew, and I felt I got better.''

Pressing to make plays

Coach Urban Meyer said Lawrence is pressing a bit to make plays.  He has tended to make the deep pass as his top option on certain plays instead of going through his progressions and check-downs for a higher percentage option like a screen pass to the running back or connecting with a receiver or tight end on a potential mid-to-short yardage gain.

In Sunday's loss, Lawrence threw a high-sailing pass attempt in coverage to Laviska Shenault, who made a jumping attempt in between multiple defenders. The ball hit off Shenault's hands, but Lawrence did not see an open DJ Chark downfield.     

''I think he's pressing a little bit,'' Meyer said. ''I chatted with him about it, but it also seeing the field. I heard this from my players (he coached in college) when they come to this level, every turns up to a 10 in speed. The windows are closed quickly.

''Every time in college, every couple of games,  you get that guy you are going have to chip on the way out, (it's) every week it's in the NFL. And so he's getting used to that.''

Tight ends lack big-play ability

Another problem for Lawrence is that the Jaguars' tight ends lack big-play ability. Chris Manhertz, who was signed as a free agent in March, is a better blocker than a pass-catcher. Rookie Luke Farrell is trying to catch on quickly, but still adjusting to the playbook as well as his role. 

The Jaguars' top pass-catching tight end James O'Shaughnessy was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. He suffered a high ankle sprain against the Broncos after playing only three snaps and catching one pass for 24 yards on the Jaguars' successful opening drive.

Lawrence has to play with the available talent on the roster. The tight end position remains weak, just as it was last season and the season prior. The receivers continued to drop passes, and offensive Darrell Bevell, perhaps because of their tight end problems, didn't call enough designed plays over the middle of the field.

Jaguars receivers have struggled to get separation

For two games, the Jaguars receivers have struggled to get separation. It forcing Lawrence at times to hold the ball too long or force up throws. It has not gone unnoticed by Meyer, who said there's not been enough.

Meyer also said his receivers are told to clear throwing lanes for the quarterback, which means getting enough separation to make a play. Meyer said Lawrence's second interception on a pass intended for wide receiver Tyron Johnson, who ran a sideline route, was not his fault. 

''We didn't keep the red line (to clear a throwing lane) down the left sideline,'' Meyer said. ''That was not on Trevor - it was on the receiver.

Always the team player, Lawrence took the blame, though.  

''I have to be more accurate consistently,'' Lawrence said. ''That's the main thing is giving my guys a chance and being more accurate. But I kind of knew everybody (NFL players) would be better when I got here. So there's not that much room for error.''

Extend plays using his legs

Lawrence needs to extend plays, not relying solely on connecting with his receivers, especially when they are covered. Last week, he ran the ball twice for 21 yards. At 6-foot-6, 220, Lawrence is not only big enough but quick enough to make plays using his legs. It's a norm around the NFL for quarterbacks to be mobile, and Lawrence showed that skillset at Clemson.  

''We just got to run the ball more consistently,'' Meyer said. ''The pass protection for two weeks has been solid. That's the No. 1 goal back in January when we made the decision of drafting the No. 1 quarterback was to keep him upright. And for the most part, we kept him upright.'' 

Lawrence believes his ability to scramble from the pocket can impact the game, especially when opposing defenses are caught by surprise.

''It's just conditioning myself more and more,'' Lawrence said. ''In the offseason, you kind of get used to sitting in the pocket, going through all your progressions. You can't hit. So that time clock isn't as real. But here when you get in the game, it becomes real and those guys are closing in on you fast. I think I have a few too many times reacted to throw it away instead of making a play.''