A lot has happened since we last asked Jags reporter Ashlyn Sullivan to layout the Top Storylines to Watch for the team’s 2019-2020 season. Of course, it was the preseason. Nick Foles had played a quarter of (preseason) football, Jalen Ramsey was disgruntled-not-defiant, and Uncle Rico references were still confined to the early 2000’s.

But here we are. A quarter of the way through the season. Ramsey hasn’t practiced in weeks. Nick Foles is out. Minshew is in. And Uncle Rico is enjoying somewhat of a swan song. (If Minshew continues to play well, tho, the ol’ guy may have to move to Jax full-time.)

Most importantly, the Jags are 2-2, and locked in a four-way tie for 1st place in the division. Not bad!
To gauge the team’s Q1 performance, and offer an opportunity to amend those preseason storylines, we asked Sullivan for her insider perspective on where things stand, and where we may hope to go from here.

Jags reporter, Ashlyn Sullivan || Photo: Cole LoCurto

Ok, Ashlyn, we’re one quarter into the season. Jags are 2-2. Here’s your chance at a mulligan. What’s the biggest storyline to emerge that wasn’t included in your preseason list? 

Well… here is a surprise: I didn’t happen to write about the 6th round draft pick out of Washington State in my preseason list. During training camp, we were not even sure if Gardner Minshew was going to be the backup for the Jaguars. Since entering the game for the injured Nick Foles, Minshew has the highest passer rating (106.9) and is tied for first in completion percentage (69.4) by any rookie in their first four games in the Super Bowl Era. Minshew Mania is more than a storyline. It is remarkable to see how Gardner Minshew has won the hearts of football fans all across the nation this month. The most impressive thing about him: he is the same guy now as he was back in April when I interviewed him with the rookie class–goofy, humble; and he simply just loves football.

Overall, you were extremely prescient. Let’s see where we stand, though. Has Fournette returned to that 2017 form?

If I wrote this before the Denver Broncos game, I would say no. Now I can’t help but think he is on his way to having similar success to what we saw in 2017. Fournette is coming off a game where he recorded 225 yards, the most of his career. I watched as he took a moment to himself in the tunnel after halftime when the Jaguars were losing to the Broncos. I can only think he was picturing his 81-yard run in his head. Fournette is focused, in-shape and healthy but has yet to score a touchdown this season. When he does find the end zone I don’t think many defenses will be able to stop the wave of touchdowns we all expect him to get this season from here on out. 

The Jags D has been pretty good and are in the conversation currently for league’s best. Any potential holes that give you pause? 
After a great win on Thursday Night Football when the Jaguars defense had 9 ½ sacks, the defense’s confidence has been at an all-time high. What concerns me is the elephant in the room – the absence of cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey has missed two games in a row with a back injury along with the drama of a trade request. Ramsey is the best corner in the league. You want him on the field. Corner Tre Herndon is not the same caliber athlete that Ramsey is. The Broncos picked on Herndon throughout the entire game–they won’t be the only team to do that. The Jaguars can still be a great defense without Ramsey on the field, but there is no question he makes the secondary and this team better.
 
And what’s been the bright spot for that D, thus far?

The brightest star for me has shined ever since the third preseason game in Miami. First round draft pick Josh Allen is improving every week. He currently has two sacks this season and is following in the footsteps of Calais Campbell in becoming a lethal pass rusher. He takes pride in being a member of Sacksonville and this team has rallied around the intensity and passion he plays with. Josh Allen will be a star in the NFL for many years to come if he continues to learn from Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. 

How do the next four games stack up? What will our record be at the halfway point? 

These next four games on the Jags schedule are all winnable games. I am more worried about Sunday’s game against the Panthers than any other this month. Even though the Saints are without Drew Brees, the next home game will still be a tough one. If the Jaguars can continue to play like they have the past two weeks, I think they can go 3-1 in October. I predict their record to be 5 and 3 at the halfway point.

Lastly, in your wildest dreams, did you imagine the Jags would be paid a visit by Uncle Rico this season?
Absolutely not. I will not lie to you: I got in line to get my picture taken with [Uncle Rico] and thought to myself “don’t be that girl.” Minshew Magic, the mustache, jorts, and Uncle Rico have made covering this team more than fun the past month. This locker room is the closest I have seen it since 2017 – if the Jaguars resilient personality shows up every week, I think this team has a chance to do something special.