Thursday, July 01, 2021

Jaguars coach George Warhop tasked with improving offensive line's pass protection


John Reid

Florida Times-Union

Published 2:59 p.m. ET Jun. 30, 2021


When Urban Meyer looked to fill his Jaguars coaching staff vacancies nearly six months ago, he set the bar high for desired qualities

He looked to hire coaches ahead of the pack, experts at the positions they coached regardless of whether they were previously at the collegiate or pro level

''For every spot, there were multiple interviews,'' Meyer said. ''Expertise is what I’d like to say. I believe 904 deserves the very best.''

For one of the most critical positions on his staff, Meyer did not have to look far to find his top choice to coach the offensive line. He hired the same guy that coached the unit for the past two seasons — George Warhop.

He's one of the four holdovers from former coach Doug Marrone's staff, including assistant linebacker coach Tony Gilbert, secondary coach (cornerbacks) Tim Walton and nickel corners coach Joe Danna. 

After allowing 44 sacks last season that tied the Dallas Cowboys for the seventh-most in the NFL, Meyer is entrusting Warhop just like Marrone did. But Meyer wants better production.

Most importantly: protect Trevor Lawrence, their prized rookie quarterback. 

The Jaguars are hoping the continuity of having all five starters back — tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor, guards Andrew Norwell and A.J. Cann, and center Brandon Linder — will be a difference-maker this time around. 

But the unit has allowed 86 sacks over the past two seasons under Warhop.

''Competition brings out the best in everyone and the way I look at our offensive line is they're very talented people,'' Meyer said. "We made a decision to go with the starting five that we had. We've got some other young players that I know Warhop thinks very highly of. I believe we have the coach and I believe we have some excellent talent that we will play much better."

Last year, the Jaguars took a chance and drafted former Division III guard Ben Bartch from St. John's University in Minnesota in the fourth round. Bartch still has a ways to go in his development but showed some promise in limited reps as a rookie.

In April, the Jaguars took another chance and selected former Stanford tackle Walker Little in the second round. At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, Little meets all the measurables. However, he has played only one game since 2019.

He opted out from playing last season for the Cardinal because of COVID-19 precautions. In 2019, he missed all but the first game of the 2019 season because of a left knee injury.

One of Warhop's critical tasks will be directing Little's NFL transition so he can be a possible contributor as a rookie. 

Warhop liked what he saw from Little during the offseason program, but a much better evaluation is ahead for training camp when the pads come on for live contact work.

''First of all, Walker, he’s a really good athlete,'' Warhop said. ''And of all those guys out there, if you watch him play, he has unbelievable flexibility, he can really bend. He’s a smooth pass blocker.  I’ve had multiple tackles drafted in the first or second round and [Walker Little] came in as prepared or more prepared than any of those guys; in terms of movement skills, in terms of intellect, in terms of communication."

If the offensive line's production doesn't meet expectations early in the season, the Jaguars are likely to make changes. That could mean either Robinson or Taylor losing their starting job to Little.

And Warhop, 59, could be the first Meyer assistant to be on the hot seat if the Jaguars' pass protection continues to be a problem. 

''I'm of the belief that there (are) very few teams if we decide that we want to hand a ball off, are going to stop us from running the ball," Warhop said. "But where we struggled last year at times was in pass protection. And that's a technique issue and a consistency issue. And that's been addressed and will continue to be addressed, those guys know it. It's something we're not shying away from, so it'll get better."

Warhop acknowledges that working on Meyer's staff is quite different from most of the other head coaches he has previously worked for, including the past two seasons with Marrone.

''Well, if you really want to get into it, into the depth of what’s going on, unlike in years past, Urban has all the power. He has all the control, so he can dictate everything from the top down. That’s huge," Warhop said. "That’s huge in the building, that’s huge for the players because they know now exactly who they’ve got to please and who they’ve got to answer to. So, that’s the first thing. And that’s clear and everybody understands that."

Warhop is highly regarded around the league and respected by players. And no other offensive coach on Meyer's staff has more NFL experience than Warhop. Since 1996, Warhop has been an offensive line coach with seven different teams: the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before he arrived in Jacksonville in 2019.  

Before the NFL, Warhop was a college offensive line coach from 1984-90 at Kansas, Vanderbilt and New Mexico. During his 37-year coaching career, the only time Warhop didn't coach the offensive line when he was the offensive coordinator for the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football (which later became NFL Europe) in 1991-92.   

''It's always nice to build a relationship with a coach and not changing over every year having to learn from a new coach (because) everyone has different techniques and stuff,'' [Center, Brad] Linder said. ''(Coach) Warhop truly cares about us, not only as football players but (as) men outside the building. So, we are all excited to have him back and it's just nice (because) we have a relationship with him and now it's just going to keep building."

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