Urban Meyer's plan for his Jacksonville Jaguars offense is slowly coming into focus, but that doesn't mean it's any less peculiar.
The Jaguars head coach told reporters on Saturday that running back Travis Etienne, taken 25th overall in the 2021 NFL draft, will work as a wide receiver during his team's rookie minicamp, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The coach said the intention is to at least develop a running back with elite receiver skills.
From ESPN's Michael DiRocco:
"At the worst-case scenario, you have a running back with the skill set of a wide receiver," coach Urban Meyer said. "Best-case scenario you'll have a hybrid player who does both and that's what we're hoping to develop out of Travis."
Etienne's selection generated a fair amount of confusion at the time, and not just because of the typical concerns about drafting a running back in the first round.
The Jaguars already had James Robinson, an undrafted running back who burst onto the scene with 1,070 rushing yards as a rookie last year. With a quality starter already at the position, taking another RB with plenty of needs elsewhere raised eyebrows, to say the least.
Playing Etienne as a wide receiver, even in practice, brings some clarity to the situation. Meyer is well-known for his use of an H-back, essentially a tweener between running back and receiver to deploy all over the field, in his offense. Notable examples include Percy Harvin, Curtis Samuel, Parris Campbell and, now, possibly Etienne.
Etienne is reportedly on board:
"I feel great about it," Etienne said. "It's going to help me maximize my opportunity and skill set. I feel like coach knows what's he's doing and I think it's going to work out well. "... Football is a game of matchups. We're just trying to get the best matchups. I feel like he know what's he's doing and I think it's going to work out well."
Etienne became the ACC's all-time leading rusher with 4,952 rushing yards, but he also developed into an elite receiver over his four years at Clemson. After posting only five receptions as a freshman, he led all running backs with 588 receiving yards as a senior.
So Meyer's plan doesn't appear to be to replace Robinson with Etienne so much as use Etienne at a different position. Of course, despite what Meyer says, there's no guarantee Etienne will end up being an elite receiver, even if he plays wide receiver in camp. Adjusting to the NFL is hard enough without also having to change positions. There's no guarantee Etienne will be an elite runner for that matter, especially if he isn't, you know, playing the position in camp.
It's also worth pointing out that the Jaguars already had a pretty ideal option for H-back in house. Laviska Shenault, a second-round pick in 2020, racked up 691 yards from scrimmage last year and is built like a running back at 227 pounds.
Whoever plays where, it's clear Meyer already has plenty of balls to juggle in his rookie year as an NFL head coach, with a running back playing as a receiver and a quarterback playing tight end.
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