Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. is preparing for a crucial sophomore season after unfortunately suffering a season-ending foot injury in last year’s preseason that wiped out his rookie campaign before it even started. Etienne returns to a Jaguars organization that has experienced an abundance of change since General Manager Trent Baalke drafted him with the No. 25 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft in a move that immediately reunited him with quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Doug Pederson has taken over for Urban Meyer as the team’s head coach and the offensive-minded Pederson has big plans for Etienne in 2022. Etienne is expected to take on a sizable role in year two, and the Jennings, La. native is beginning to dream big.
“Football is all about matchups so I mean if I could be like Deebo Samuel, I would love that,” Etienne said following Tuesday’s practice. “If I’m in those positions throughout the game and we get positive matchups, we’ll be able to exploit them. So it’s just me being able to do more and being valuable.”
Etienne made the comments following a Tuesday practice during organized team activities (OTAs) that saw him seemingly only catch passes throughout the course of a grueling two-hour session. While it’s an exciting idea, it’s probably safer to pump the breaks on any Samuel-related comparisons.
Samuel’s 2021 campaign was truly unique. It’s difficult to forecast a player replicating that sort of dual-threat success, but Etienne should receive every opportunity imaginable to make a substantial impact on Jacksonville’s new-look offense in 2022, and that includes reps both as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher.
Meyer was often mocked for utilizing Etienne in wide receiver looks throughout the majority of last year’s training camp, but it sounds like Pederson and newly minted Offensive Coordinator Press Taylor similarly view Etienne as a pass-catching threat, even if he won’t be making a full-time switch to wide receiver (like Meyer once foolishly alluded to).
Impacting the game as a pass-catcher is nothing new to Etienne, either. He accumulated 102 receptions for 1,155 yards and eight touchdowns throughout his four years at Death Valley. Today’s NFL offenses continue to place increased emphasis on creating mismatches via diverse passing attacks, and there’s few better ways to achieve that than through the utilization of a running back that can line up outside and place stress on opposing linebackers. Given Jacksonville’s recent practice habits, the vision for Etienne includes such opportunities.
It’s worth monitoring how Etienne looks fresh off a concerning foot injury, but his current situation leans favorably to him earning an early-season role. Fellow running back James Robinson suffered a torn Achilles in a Week 16 contest against the New York Jets. Robinson is still rehabbing from that setback, and Etienne is primed to receive an increased amount of targets and touches as a result. Weighing the outcome of drafting Etienne and pairing him alongside a familiar Lawrence factored into Jacksonville’s decision-making, and it’s safe to say Lawrence, who threw for 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions in his first season, missed Etienne’s backfield presence in 2021.
Jacksonville’s offense experienced more changes than the sweeping ones that occurred on the coaching staff. Baalke signed wide receiver Christian Kirk to a sizable four-year contract worth $72 million dollars. Zay Jones was recruited as an appropriate No. 2 or 3 receiver. Pederson routinely utilized high-level tight ends throughout his time in Philadelphia and Baalke has attempted to make Pederson feel right at home by signing Evan Engram. Lawrence will be targeting a new band of weapons in 2022, and despite all these free-agent additions, Etienne figures to play a big role in that impending outcome.
Etienne is a prime candidate to experience a breakout campaign in 2022. Pederson is attempting to develop his Jaguars into a more well-rounded unit that threatens opposing defenses both through the air and via the ground game so look for Etienne to continue turning heads throughout OTAs, training camp and the preseason.
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