Jags find offensive chemistry with pass-catching newcomers
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Zay Jones has been in the NFL long enough to realize — and appreciate — the uniqueness of Jacksonville’s receiving group.
The Jaguars signed three pass catchers in free agency to help second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and each of them delivered a career season.
Jones, fellow receiver Christian Kirk and tight end Evan Engram quickly bonded with Lawrence and became one of the most dynamic trios in the league.
They played significant roles in helping the Jaguars (9-8) win the AFC South for the second time in franchise history and will be counted on in a wild-card matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) on Saturday night.
“It happened faster than I had even anticipated,” Jones said. “We just started speaking the same language. Where did that come from? I think maybe the freedom and availability we have in this building to say anything and be ourselves.”
Jones, Kirk and Engram have combined to catch 239 passes for 2,687 yards and 17 touchdowns, roughly 68% of Lawrence’s completions and two-thirds of his TD passes.
Kirk leads the way with 84 receptions for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones is close behind with 82 catches for 823 yards and five scores. Engram has 73 catches for 766 yards, with four TDs.
Together, they finished just shy of becoming the first NFL team to have three newcomers with 800 yards receiving each.
“I think it comes down to guys really just being unselfish,” Lawrence said. “When there’s really no egos, that makes things a lot easier for me to do my job to the best of my ability and not worry about who’s getting the ball necessarily, just trying to get it to the right place.”
No egos? Really? All four insist there has been no angst about who’s getting the ball, who’s finding the end zone or who’s getting the credit.
“Everybody has a right to have some type of ego, but we don’t,” Engram said. “Everybody’s had their day; everybody’s had their success. And we see how much fun we’re having winning. I’ve never been a part of a winning team like this. I’m going to keep doing whatever it takes to keep this going, and that’s what they’re going to do, too.
“We’ve got a special group and we’re on a special path. We found a process that works along that path, and we’re all committed to it.”
It surely helps that all three newcomers got paid, at least to some extent. Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million contract that included $37 million guaranteed. Jones got $24 million over three years, with $14 million guaranteed. Engram gambled on himself by signing a one-year, $9 million but likely will be the most sought-after tight end when free agency opens in March.
Engram hopes to remain in Jacksonville, and teammates already are openly campaigning for him to land a long-term deal.
Lawrence, Jones and Kirk believe they’re just getting started, too. The Jaguars expect to add suspended receiver Calvin Ridley to the mix next month, but they don’t want to disrupt the chemistry in what’s emerged as the team’s deepest and most talented groups.
Getting to this point was somewhat methodical. Lawrence created camaraderie by organizing a weeklong trip to the Bahamas and a weekend trip to Las Vegas last summer.
“That was a big step for us,” Engram said. “We had fun together, but we also had to be responsible and get our work in and then go have fun and watch out for each other.”
It may have helped that all three also had something to prove: Kirk that he could be the go-to guy; Jones that he could be a legitimate No. 2; and Engram that he be more consistent and surehanded.
“It’s a group of guys that have talent and may not have previously had the ability to show it,” Jones said. “It was playing Robin to Batman. When you bring those guys into a building together and you give everyone a fresh slate, they just start playing for each other. And that’s the most beautiful thing about it.”
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