If there's one thing that all NFL fans can agree on, it's that we're all a sucker for a great underdog story. After being one of his own following a historic victory in Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots, Nick Foles cemented his name in Philadelphia Eagles history -- helping the franchise capture its first title.
In Week 1, the now Jaguars signal-caller was on the opposite end of the spectrum as he suffered a broken clavicle that would sideline him for "multiple weeks". With that being said, there aren't too many casual fans that could name many backup quarterbacks throughout the league, let alone a rookie one. That's the case in Jacksonville as sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew is now at the helm.
The journey to get to this point seems like a fairytale though.
A true topsy-turvy type of football career, Minshew's journey originally started as a walk-on at Troy. After losing out on the quarterback battle, he would then transfer to Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2015. From there, he went on to complete 223-of-367 passes (60.8%) for 3,288 yards and 28 touchdowns — leading the Rangers to a 66-13 victory in the NJCAA National Championship game in his lone season there.
After graduating early, his next stop would be at East Carolina. During his first season (sophomore) he appeared in seven games, recording just two starts. Minshew completed 119-of-202 passes (58.9%) for eight touchdowns and four interceptions. During his junior season, he finished 293-of-506 for 2,140 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Electing to graduate early (Dec. 2017) with a degree in communications, his next destination was originally scheduled to be Alabama, where he intended to be the third option behind Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. Nick Saban made a promise to Minshew that he would become a graduate assistant directly after his playing days concluded in Tuscaloosa. Coaching was an avenue that Minshew always wanted to explore because of the tedious process that was his playing days.
The tables turned quickly as Washington State head coach Mike Leach called, offered him a scholarship, and a chance to compete for the starting position. It proved to be a blessing disguise as he was eventually named the Pac-12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Minshew set school single season records for completions (468) and passing yards (4,779) in his only year with the Cougars.
His upswing continued, as he was selected to participate in the 2019 Reese's Senior Bowl. Despite all of the Heisman hype throughout the season and electric plays in Mike Leach's legendary Air Raid offense, it wasn't any on-the-field aspect that made him so impressive. his leadership skills and unique personality are what makes his teammates and fans gravitate towards him.
You will often see a picture of him in unique attire and outfits that make the internet go crazy, combined with his mustache that took the nation by story while under-center for Wazzu.
It was easy to bypass, but the singular trait that stood out about Minshew was his love for the game. When interacting with him, it's easy to notice how he elevates the standards of others around him by how he constantly challenges himself to be better every day. It's not a secret as to how he's reached this point despite not having the most feared arm or athleticism -- one thing has remained constant and that's how he's been able to consistently maintain being a force multiplying and forcing others to gravitate towards his unavoidable moxy.
My biggest takeaway from Senior Bowl week involved Minshew. It wasn't a single snap that he took in practices or even when he finished 1-for-8 in the actual game, but what he did prior to the first day of practice. Alongside Will Grier and Tyree Jackson, he was the sole responsibility for getting all of the South team quarterbacks and centers together to work on snap exchanges in the players team hotel lounge prior to the first day.
This once again shows his leadership, understanding of the game, and just how serious he takes every opportunity. While others may be glancing the hype from social media or reading blogs/websites about who to watch for during the events opening day of action, he had the wherewithal to gather the players at both positions so the team as a whole could experience a clean operation.
Fast forward to last Sunday.
Once again, his moment came, but this time on the biggest stage of them all. In unexpected fashion and just like we all clearly predicted (not really), Minshew was the first quarterback of the 2019 draft class to take a regular season snap.
The same magic that he displayed at Northwest Mississippi Community College to help lead the program to a national title that also trickled down to Washington State is the same formula that he exemplifed in an unanticipated professional debut.
Despite a 40-26 loss to the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs, the Minshew Magic was sprinkled all throughout TIAA Bank Field. All he did in his first game was record the highest completion percentage (88%) for any player with at least 15 passing attempts in an NFL debut. Not only that, but it also was a single-game franchise record among players with at least 25 passing attempts.
What made his debut so intriguing? Let's dive into the film to discuss some intriguing parts about Minshew's historic debut.
Facing a 2nd-and-5 situation on his very first throw in the waning moments of the first quarter, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo gives his young thrower help by incorporating an across the field motion with a slant-flat route combination. The motion is a coverage indicator because it helps signal to Minshew the exact coverage of the defense.
Motions and shifts are keys and it forces the defense to show their hand because if it is man coverage then the defender is forced to travel with the player in motion. Seeing this, Minshew now knows that he is faced with man-to-man. His savvy didn't stop there though. The flat route is open immediately, but he has the wits to not deliver it immediately because the motioned defender will only drive down on it to make the tackle short of the sticks.
To counteract that, he allows the outside receiver (Chris Conley - No. 18), to work a release while he remains patient before throwing it to him past first-down markers for a first-down.
Minshew isn't known as a quarterback that has a big arm, but he's unafraid of taking shots down the field during timely situations. As evident here, the Jaguars scheme up a clear-out concept with targets from opposite sides of the field. Highlighted, the team once again uses pre-snap motion as a coverage indicator. Seeing that it is once again man coverage with a free safety (No. 22) sitting atop the defense, which is his read on this given concept.
On the deep pass to D.J. Chark (No. 17), you can see that the free safety followed Dede Westbrook (No. 12) on the over route - meaning that he was double covered. Seeing that the safety had now followed that given route, it meant that Chark was facing single coverage on the roof of the defense. Knowing his deep threat capabilities, Minshew wisely lofted it up and gave him a chance - resulting in a 69 yard gain.
Not Falling for the Rookie Quarterback Trap
Knowing that Minshew's arm limitations are apparent, the Chiefs began to play trap coverages in hopes of baiting him on quick throws in the short areas. As evident here, the Jaguars are running an out route from the slot with a vertical route on the outside to protect.
The outside cornerback attempts to bait Minshew by slowly running with the go route, but he's ploying him to throw the quick out because that's his disguised zone. If thrown, he would fall off of the vertical route and jump in front of the out route for the interception, as he wrongfully anticipated.
Minshew shows his smarts by not taking the bait and instead capitalizing on the throw in what's called the "honey hole", which is a difficult spot to throw to in between the low cornerback and safety over the top.