Analysis

Brilliance of Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence Starting to Shine

Trevor Lawrence was sharper than he’s ever been in Week 2 against Indianapolis, producing the highest rating of his young NFL career. I took it as a good reason to dust off my limited but meaningful to me Trevor Lawrence history.

My work at NBC Sports has allowed me to call a high school showcase called The All-American Bowl for the last 10 years. Each January, the best players in the country come to San Antonio for one final high school hurrah before heading off to college.

The day before the game each quarterback comes to our NBC production meeting and talks with us for 15 to 20 minutes. In recent years, it’s been a wonderful way to get to know the quarterbacks who are fast-tracking toward national prominence: CJ Stroud, Bryce Young, Tua Tagovailoa, and for our purposes here, Lawrence.

 

Recalling a First Look At Lawrence

Lawrence seemed more like 22 years old than 18 when I first met him. Mature and calm, he appeared adept at dealing with all the attention that came with being the No. 1 recruit in the country. He was patient with us, but itching for the next step in his career. The game was on a Saturday, he left for Clemson on that Monday and earned the starting job shortly into his freshman season.

He eventually led Clemson to the national championship that season and their semifinal game happened to be against Notre Dame in Dallas. As the voice of Notre Dame football, any time the Irish line up against an elite quarterback with NFL aspirations, I finish my pregame work in the booth in time to get down to the field and get close to that QB for warmups.

Everything about how he throws a football comes into sharp focus when you’re a few feet from him. Physically, Lawrence already looked like a first-round pick. And his skill set was refined for someone his age – the release, the RPMs on his perfect spirals, the velocity, the touch, the sound the ball made as it whistled through the air — and perhaps most important, the ease with which he produced all of it.

His most impressive moment came on a deep throw over the middle late in the first half. It wasn’t the classic down-and-in “dig” route run at 15 yards, yet it wasn’t the “post” that’s lofted 50 yards downfield. It was a 25-yard “in” route thrown with the velocity you’d expect on a 12-yard curl.

Right on target.

Most colleges don’t have it in their playbook because most college quarterbacks can’t pull it off.

Drawing Positives From Rookie Season

My personal snapshot of Lawrence built anticipation to see how the NFL would treat him once he got there. His rookie year, as to be expected in Jacksonville, was an uphill battle. The classic signs of a rookie quarterback struggling — more interceptions than touchdowns, a completion percentage under 60 percent and many more team losses than wins — were all there. He was also dealing with the turmoil of a college coach making the adjustment to the pros, and Urban Meyer clearly was struggling with that.

But, you didn’t have to create illusions to see the glass half-full. Lawrence threw most of his interceptions in September and October, even though he played far more games in November, December and January. In fact, in seven of Jacksonville’s last 10 games, he didn’t throw a single pick. He deserves extra credit for starting every game, with his best being his last, against the Colts, who had a playoff berth within reach before Jacksonville beat them.

Last week, those Colts were back in town. The Jaguars won easily, 24-0, and Lawrence had his best game as a pro: 25 of 30 for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Yes, his own defense dominating and pitching a shutout put him in an ideal position. And completing 83 percent of his passes while avoiding interceptions will mean much more if and when he does so in a one-score game.

Still, his level of efficiency made me want to go back and see what he did so well. Here’s what stood out:

Conviction

He was decisive, nearly every time. There’s no stat for how often the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hand exactly when it’s supposed to, but if there was, Lawrence would have set the pace on Sunday. His footwork told this story best. It didn’t matter if it was a three- or five-step drop from under center, or a one-to-three step from the shotgun. When he reached the top of his drop, he either released the ball without a hitch or had just one. It was an excellent indication he knew exactly what the play call intended and had a strong feel for what the defense was doing.

I wrote in my notes toward the end of the third quarter: “Has he been confused or unsure yet?” If he had, he covered it up well.

Critical-Down Savvy, Accuracy

On a fourth-and-3 early in the game, the Colts lined up in an obvious man coverage look. The play called for Zay Jones to run a short crossing route from the right slot. Lawrence waited for him to come open, and delivered the ball accurately enough for him to catch it in stride, allowing him to turn upfield before going out of bounds. First down.

Twice more on third-down situations, Lawrence repeated the process: He deciphered man coverage, located an underneath receiver with a step on the defender, gave him a ball he could run with, and allowed him to get the first down.

Smarts plus accuracy mean you will move the chains every time.

Success to His Left

Once on a called play-action rollout, and once after escaping pressure, Lawrence ran to his left, and without breaking stride, calmly turned his shoulders and fired a strike for a first down. No offensive coordinator will design a game plan around moving his right-handed quarterback to his left, but knowing he has the athleticism to execute it is a bonus and a skill he can use to his advantage.

Wide Base

This point ties together the first observation about throwing on time and with conviction, bringing it all to a close. Lawrence is a tall quarterback (6-foot-6), and tall quarterbacks are often long-striders. It’s natural for them to stand high in the pocket and take a long step at the moment of delivery. Watch Lawrence. He hits the top of his drop with a wide base, doesn’t bring his feet close together, and delivers. It’s a small thing, but having a quiet lower body buys you a split second, and sometimes that’s the difference between being on time vs. being late with your throw. Tom Brady has mastered it; Lawrence used it well on Sunday.

 

Big Challenge Ahead vs. Chargers

So, can he make this kind of performance a habit? Sunday’s opportunity against the Chargers in Los Angeles provides a unique opportunity to do so.

Lawrence is winless in nine games on the road as a starter. Incredibly, the only other quarterback in the last 55 years to come out on the wrong end of his first nine road starts only to win in his 10th is Peyton Manning. As luck, or fate, would have it, that win came at the Chargers, in Week 3 of Manning’s second season.

The ways to weave subtle history into Lawrence’s next game don’t stop there. If the Jaguars lose on Sunday, he’ll be the first quarterback to lose his first 10 road starts since Blake Bortles started his Jacksonville career that way in 2014-15.

Good luck to Lawrence this weekend as he aims to make it two strong outings in a row while joining Manning, not Bortles, in obscure QB lore.

WATCH MORE: Chris Long Breaks Down Jaguars-Chargers

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