JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer was so surprised – or maybe disappointed – that he had to repeat the number.
Yes, 18 dropped passes. Eighteen times Jaguars receivers, tight ends and running backs have failed to catch a pass when they got two hands on it.
“That’s an issue,” Meyer said. “… I didn't realize it was 18. That's a tough number, especially with a young quarterback.”
And that’s the major problem. The drops are just another thing that is negatively impacting the development of rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. They’re keeping drives from continuing – a league-high 11 of those drops have come on third down – and in at least one instance took points off the scoreboard.
This season was supposed to be all about getting No. 1 overall pick as much experience as possible -- having him adjust to the increased speed of the NFL, while learning a new offense, as well as the nuances of being an NFL quarterback. Other things are impacting that too – the Jaguars lead the league with 38 accepted offensive penalties – but the dropped passes are critically important.
“That’s something that slows down the development of a quarterback," Meyer said, "and that's not right.
Running back James Robinson and receiver Jamal Agnew lead the team with four drops, followed by receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (three) and tight end Dan Arnold (two). Five others have one drop: Tight ends Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell and James O’Shaughnessy and receivers DJ Chark Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr.
ESPN Stats & Information has the Jaguars with 18 drops (only the New York Jets have more: 19), though the number seems to vary widely at other sites. What isn’t up for debate is how the Jaguars' players define a dropped pass.
“We say any time the ball touches our hands and we don’t finish the play, it’s a drop,” Agnew said. “That should be everybody’s mentality. Whether you’re playing DB, receiver, tight end, running back, if your hands touch that ball you need to make that play.
"Obviously, if it’s a really tough catch, you’re stretching out for something, you can make some cases for a tough catch, stuff like that, but our mentality is if that ball touches your hands and you don’t finish the play, it’s a drop.”
And yes, the Jaguars work on it every day at practice. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said there are numbers and colors on footballs, and the players have to say what they were after catching the ball. It’s a drill designed to increase concentration and focus on the point of the football and look it into their hands.
“As they’re focusing on the ball, ‘Hey, that’s a red dot. Hey, that’s a 2, that’s a 5,’ as they’re catching it,” Bevell said. “Just really put their focus more on the ball because sometimes guys are so confident in their hands, if you watch, their hands will go like that [up], but then their eyes start to leave [and turn their head] before they finish the catch.”
Bevell said they’re emphasizing “eyes to the tuck,” which is another way of saying "watch the ball all the way into your hands and tuck it away" – and then run.
“It’s a lot of guys, including myself, not finishing the whole play,” Agnew said. “... It’s something that can be easily fixed by just locking in more through the catch, but not something we’re super concerned about because it’s an easy fix.”
Not so easy, apparently. They’ve been doing the color/number drill for weeks and still dropped four passes in the 23-17 loss at the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Lawrence said he should share some of the blame for the drops.
“Obviously it goes back to, like I said, making the play when it’s there,” he said. “Looking in the mirror, too, I have to be consistently more accurate. So, if I’m putting the ball where it’s supposed to be more consistently, we’re not going to have as many drops, and there are a few where, yeah, they could catch it, but I’m not throwing the best ball."
But Agnew said it’s the pass-catchers who should be trying to do more for Lawrence – starting with catching the ball.
“He’s got a lot on his plate, play calls, looking at the defense, pressures, all that stuff,” Agnew said. “We have to make it easier on him, and dropping balls, not being in the right spot at the right time, is going to make it a lot harder on him because he’s already got a lot on his plate.
“… Obviously we want to make those plays, and we’re all capable of making those plays, but unfortunately, we’re not making them sometimes. But he never loses confidence in us, and that’s what we love about him.”
Jones, who has only 20 drops in his 10-year career, cautions against overthinking and over-emphasizing the dropped passes and believes there’s a simple fix.
“Sometimes it’s technical issues. Most of the time it’s focus,” he said. “So when we just focus in, make the play, don’t make the moment too big. We’ll be good.”