JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Gardner Minshew barked.
The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback had just heard someone’s dog bark during a recent Microsoft Teams video interview with local media, so Minshew, of course, barked back.
Social media loved it. Nobody should have been surprised by it at this point, though. Not after nearly a year of the Jaguars quarterback’s quirky personality on full display. The hair, mustache and jorts. The Uncle Rico comparisons. The offseason RV trip that included a flight with the Air Force’s Thunderbirds.
The stories: Stretching in the locker room with nothing on but a jock strap ... smashing his hand with a hammer to try to get a redshirt year ... donning a red leisure suit open to the navel for Washington State’s flight to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.
All that has made Minshew somewhat of a legend, at least at Washington State, Jacksonville and his hometown of Brandon, Mississippi. But if there’s a lot of interest in Minshew nationally because of his personality, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a lot of belief in his ability to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
If there was, the Jaguars wouldn’t be considered as potentially the worst team in the NFL in 2020. A vast majority of the way-too-early 2021 mock drafts done by reputable sports publications had the Jaguars taking Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first pick next spring.
Shame on anyone who believes that, said former Washington State coach Mike Leach. Don’t let all the fun and unusual stuff about Minshew overshadow the fact that he’s proved doubters wrong at pretty much every stop in his career -- and that he’s probably going to do it again in 2020.
“On the field it’s all business,” said Leach, now the coach at Mississippi State. “He has fun. He’s excited about football. Some guys don’t have that switch and don’t have that mastery and control of going from one thing to the next. Football is exciting and it’s hard to be a very good player unless you’re emotionally invested about being good and being intense.
“He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever dealt with. That’s going to allow him to work and elevate the people around him.”
Minshew has been proving himself and shutting down doubters since he left Brandon High School six years ago. He graduated from high school in December 2014 and enrolled at Troy in January 2015 but didn’t like the fit, so he opted to transfer to Northwest Mississippi Community College. He didn’t sign until late May, but still won the job and went on to lead the Rangers to an 11-1 record and the NJCAA national title while throwing for 3,288 yards and 28 TDs with five interceptions. That included 421 yards and five TDs in the 66-13 title game victory over Rochester (Minnesota).
Minshew spent the next two years as a part-time starter at East Carolina and figured he’d continue his career at Alabama as a graduate transfer until he got a call from Leach, who convinced Minshew to head to Pullman instead by asking him if he wanted to come lead the nation in passing. Minshew showed up in June, picked up Leach’s Air Raid offense in little more than a month, won the starting job and led the nation in attempts and completions -- and finished second in passing yards (4,779) behind Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins (4,831) -- while guiding the Cougars to the first 11-win season in school history.
Minshew answered his critics again last season when he stepped in for an injured Nick Foles and went 6-6 as the Jaguars’ starter. He had the highest passer rating (91.2) and fewest interceptions (six) of any rookie quarterback while throwing for franchise rookie records in yards (3,271) and touchdowns (21). He also had some pretty bad performances, especially against New Orleans, Houston and Atlanta, but the good was enough to convince the Jaguars that Minshew earned the chance to show he could be the team’s long-term starter in 2020.
That’s the stuff that coach Doug Marrone sees. He hears about Minshew’s other traits from his family and other members of the Jaguars organization, but he’s like Leach in that he believes anyone who allows those things to have an impact on their opinion of Minshew’s abilities is irresponsible.
“There’s so many people that tell me all of those things about social media, RVs and all that stuff,” Marrone said. “I see the guy that comes in with a mission and a focus every single day. When he’s here or around myself, not to say that we might not laugh about something or joke -- we do -- but I don’t see that other side that people say about the quirkiness or things of that nature.
“I’m just saying I see a guy that’s focused and he’s ready to go, and every time he’s here and he’s working; he’s on a mission and he’s really working with his teammates. I say that he’s someone that has a really good personality and can laugh at himself and do those things, which I think is important in life. I think that he’s someone that can communicate with everyone on his team no matter where you are or whether you’re the guy that stays in the corner or whether you’re out there. And I think that’s great. Those things are positive. Make no mistake about it, when he crosses that line and he’s on the field or he’s in the classroom or when he’s by himself, he’s working extremely hard. That’s what I see.”
Center Brandon Linder sees that, too, as someone who has made it a habit of being better than critics think he should be.
“I don’t know why they still doubt him, but that’s OK because that means he’s going to have a chip on his shoulder and he’s going to come again to prove something and that’s all right,” Linder said. “He’s a heck of a kid. He’s a heck of a talent. He’s got us out of a lot of situations in the past, being able to scramble, and he’s coming to camp in [great] shape.”
Minshew has been able to walk the line between having a good time and not taking himself too seriously, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t bothered by being written off.
“I think you hear all those things and you hear what people are saying against you, but at the end of the day you know what you can do and you know what the guys around you can do,” he said. “We are going to focus on the things we can do and not what we can’t do. I think if we do that, if we focus on ourselves, we’ll have a chance to be pretty damn good.”