Jaguars have college feel amid Meyer’s methods, missteps

Sports

FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, file photo, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer watches as his team warms up before a preseason NFL = football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. In many regards, Meyer runs the Jaguars like a college program It’s what he knows even though he spent a year studying the NFL before he ended a brief coaching retirement. It’s also worked at every previous stop, so no one is questioning his methods. (AP Photo/Brett Duke, File)

October 02 2021 06:00 pm

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Urban Meyer arrives at Jaguars practice long before anyone else. He has a drink in one hand and an energy shot in his back pocket as he leisurely strolls around the perimeter of Jacksonville’s three fields.

It’s the last break Meyer gets for several hours.

He finishes his lap, tosses his cup in the trash and then slams the energy drink before mingling with players. When the emcee (more on that later) calls for the workout to start, Meyer gets busy. He bounces from position group to position group, often jumping in to teach a technique or demonstrate the proper hand/foot placement. He has a whistle hanging from his lips and sweat dripping from his long-sleeved shirt. The tempo is as intense as Florida’s sweltering summer heat. Meyer never strays too far from the middle of the action, either.

It’s his first NFL season – evidenced by continued missteps – and his first taste of real football since the end of the 2018 season. It’s what he knows. It’s what he loves. It’s what he does best.

And he’s running the Jaguars much like he did his successful college programs: Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State.

He asks players to jog onto the practice field. He puts guys in competitive situations every chance he gets. He charts winners and losers for every drill. He gives no one a day off. It’s no doubt demanding.

Players are counting on it being equally rewarding.

“He’s won everywhere he’s been so it’s easy for us to buy in,” veteran center Brandon Linder said.

Added linebacker Damien Wilson: “Coach, he’s been saying it maybe a thousand times. We’re not really here to get runner-up or just win the division. Everyone here wants a championship. That’s why we play the game; that’s what we’re playing for.”

Meyer has three titles, two at Florida (2006, 2008) and another at Ohio State (2014). He left the Buckeyes for health reasons in 2018 and spent the next two years working as a college football TV analyst. He first contemplated a move to the NFL in early 2020 and started studying the nuances of the league long before Jaguars owner Shad Khan offered him the job.

He admits having the opportunity to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick was alluring. So was teaming with a billionaire owner who has a passion for winning and the willingness to spend big to get there.

Meyer already has started putting his stamp on every aspect of the organization. At Meyer’s behest, the team already has city approval to build a $120 million performance center. Meyer already has revamped the sports nutrition department and turned a section of the facility that used to serve as a media workroom into a “rejuvenation room” for players.

It’s such a popular spot that players have to make appointments to get in the door. Once inside, they can get red-light therapy and take a quick turn in the cryotherapy chamber. They can get a massage, acupuncture and cupping. They can relax in a Kyro-flotation tank or a cocoon infrared sauna.

It’s all part of Meyer’s pledge to give players “the best of the best.”

And that’s just one of his many catchphrases seen or heard throughout the building. There’s a “plus-two mentality,” which refers to giving a little extra at the finish.

“If we ask you to go 10, go 12. When we ask you to go five reps, give us seven. It’s just a way of thinking,” Meyer said. “What’s the difference between a pressure and a sack fumble? It’s the relentless finish of a player. What’s the difference between a ball getting downed on the 1-yard line instead of rolling into the end zone for a touchback?”

Meyer’s “own it” motto is even more prevalent. It’s on every name plate in the building and plastered on fences surrounding the practice fields.

“When people own things, my experiences are, you’re really good. It means it’s yours,” he said. “We want people, including everybody that steps foot in this facility that works here, they need to own this. They need to own that Jaguar emblem. If they don’t, they need to leave. It’s the same approach we take with our players.

“This is not a one stop (where) we’re going to rent the place for a few months and move on. That doesn’t go well.”

Meyer’s college-like motivational tactics are constantly evolving, too.

He gathers the team around him for lengthy chats before and sometimes during workouts, with one being timed at nearly eight minutes. He welcomes guest speakers: Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin, Lou Holtz, Dabo Swinney, Drew Brees and Willie McGinest are among those who have recently visited. Brees even donned head-to-toe Jaguars gear for his daylong stay.

Meyer calls it a study in human performance and behavior.

“I just can’t get enough studying that, and of winners, great players, the great coaches, the great teams,” he said, adding it started when Patriots coach Bill Belichick invited him to New England. “They were coming off back-to-back Super Bowls and I was mesmerized with the way that organization ran, the leadership within the locker room.”

Meyer now has a chief of staff who also doubles as the public address announcer during practices. Fernando Lovo was with Meyer at Florida and Ohio State. He counts down breaks, keeps everyone abreast of what’s up next and where, and even reminds everyone “to get a rinse.”

Meyer probably should take heed. He went so hard for so long in oppressive heat in early August that he nearly passed out. Team doctors advised him to start wearing a bucket hat to minimize sun and heat exposure.

Unfortunately for Meyer, that’s the least of his blips.

He had to part with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle a day after hiring him in February because of a lawsuit accusing the former Iowa assistant of racist remarks. Meyer also had to replace special teams coordinator Brian Schneider, who stepped away from football for the second time in eight months. Both were risky hires.

The Jaguars were fined $200,000 and Meyer $100,000 on July 1. The punishment stemmed from an early June practice in which the league deemed receivers and defensive backs had too much contact during 11-on-11 drills. He also was widely criticized for signing quarterback-turned-tight end Tim Tebow and for holding a QB “competition” between Lawrence and Gardner Minshew.

Meyer’s latest issue stems from his admission that vaccination status factored into the team’s roster decisions. That may be true with many teams, but the NFL Players Association launched an investigation in response to his comments.

Meyer has said repeatedly he’s still learning daily about the NFL and how it differs from college. Clock rules, challenge rules, practice restrictions, having a little give and take with millionaires who have lives outside of football, all of it’s new for Meyer.

Meyer’s adjusting as much or more than players and assistants still figuring out his methodology.

“Love the energy,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I don’t care if it’s college, NFL, you want the energy. You feel the energy, you feel the urgency and everyone knows that when they step on this field they better not be sleepwalking.”

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