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Expectations for Gardner Minshew growing just as fast as his legend

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Cruz expects Minshew will lead Jags over Allen's Panthers (1:17)

Victor Cruz contends that Gardner Minshew is better equipped to lead his team to victory in the matchup with Panthers QB Kyle Allen. (1:17)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Coach Doug Marrone had no inkling that he was going to have the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month throwing passes for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He was just hoping that the Gardner Minshew who ran onto the field to replace an injured Nick Foles in the season opener would be the player who impressed the heck out of him in practices and not the one who didn’t produce a single point in 30 drives in the preseason.

A month later, Marrone has significantly higher expectations for the sixth-round draft pick. As Minshew keeps playing and improving, these expectations are likely going to keep growing.

“There’s nothing easy about playing this game,” Marrone said. “Is it [what Minshew is doing] remarkable? Yeah, I think it is. Is it becoming something that’s expected week in and week out? It’s starting to. That’s what happens when you do this one week and you do it another week and now you’re looking for it all the time. Expectations rise.

“It’s still early in the season, early in his career, early in a lot of guys' careers. A lot of times early on you’re like, ‘This guy can’t play’ or ‘This guy is great,’ and everything you do right now is probably somewhere in the middle until you can get a really good body of work where you feel comfortable week in and week out.”

Here is Minshew’s body of work so far:

  • He ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating (106.9) and completion percentage (69.4 percent). Both of those numbers, by the way, are better than those of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Philip Rivers and Jared Goff.

  • Minshew has the same number of TD passes as Brady (seven) and one more than Rodgers (six). All three have thrown just one interception. Minshew also has more TD passes than Goff (six), Watson (six) and Baker Mayfield (four).

  • Minshew has the NFL's highest passer rating in the red zone (123.9) and is the only quarterback in the league with at least 200 yards passing and a 95.0 rating in every game.

  • Minshew led the Jaguars to nine fourth-quarter points in a 13-12 loss in Houston. He threw a TD pass to wide receiver DJ Chark with 30 seconds remaining and the Jaguars opted to try a two-point conversion instead of kicking the PAT, and running back Leonard Fournette came up inches short.

  • Two weeks later, Minshew led the Jaguars back from a 17-3 deficit in Denver with two TD passes, including one in which he evaded three potential tacklers and found running back Ryquell Armstead in the back of the end zone. Minshew held on to the ball for 7.51 seconds before making the throw, the longest time of any QB this season. The Jaguars beat the Broncos 26-24 on Josh Lambo’s 33-yard field goal as time expired. Minshew drove the Jaguars 60 yards in eight plays to record the first game-winning drive of his career.

  • He was Rookie of the Week twice in the season’s first three weeks and was named the Rookie of the Month for September on Thursday. He’s the first Jaguars player to earn any Rookie of the Month honors since linebacker Clint Ingram in November 2006 and the first Jaguars player to be named Offensive Rookie of the Month since quarterback Byron Leftwich in December 2003.

With all those accomplishments, it makes sense that the Jaguars are going to be asking for more out of the former Washington State standout.

“It’s a fine line, still four games into his rookie season, but he’s earning our trust, there’s no doubt,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “The more he goes out there and does the right thing, and throws the ball on time accurately, not turning the ball over, you can continue to give a rookie more on his plate. There hasn’t been much that we’ve been in there on Tuesday and Wednesday night’s game planning saying, ‘I’m not sure he can handle this.’

“There really hasn’t been much of that at all that’s come up from a protection standpoint and a scheme standpoint. So we’re very fortunate that he has worked hard to try and master this offense.”

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Uncle Rico and the legend of Gardner Minshew

Uncle Rico of "Napoleon Dynamite" evaluates Gardner Minshew and then competes against the Jaguars QB to see who can throw a football farther.

Minshew’s football IQ was one of the things Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell raved about in news conferences moments after the team selected Minshew with the 178th pick. Minshew won a junior college national title, spent two seasons at East Carolina and was headed to Alabama to be a backup quarterback before he got a phone call from Washington State’s Mike Leach.

Minshew got to WSU in June, won the starting job two months later and ended up among the nation's leaders in passing. He picked up Leach’s Air Raid offense without the benefit of a spring practice or offseason study and that -- plus their interview with Minshew at the combine -- sold the Jaguars on Minshew despite the fact that he doesn’t fit the NFL prototype.

“You watch him play, and it looks like he has been there [at WSU] forever,” Coughlin said in April. “As I said, the real thing about this guy is the competitiveness. He’s very smart; he’s very sharp. He loves the game; he loves the study part of the game. He’ll be a great guy in the classroom with the coaches.

“He will suck up all that information and then, based on what we have seen, he will go onto the practice field and carry it with him. Some guys can’t do that, or don’t do it as fast. They don’t process. They’re not as quick. I think this guy will be quick.”

Coughlin was right. Marrone said several times during training camp that he was impressed with Minshew’s ability to take what he learned in the meeting room and immediately transfer it to the practice field.

It wasn’t pretty at times during the preseason, but it’s obvious now that the main reason for his struggles was that all of Minshew’s playing time came with backups, including third- and fourth-teamers. He flourished from the moment he came into the game against the Chiefs; he completed 22 of 25 passes that day, and one of the incompletions was a drop and another was a ball that bounced off Leonard Fournette’s face mask.

Minshew’s poise has been perhaps the most impressive thing. At no point has he become overwhelmed. Or panicked. Or had happy feet in the pocket.

“We’ve all been around long enough to know how hard and how difficult it is to play quarterback in the NFL,” Marrone said. “It’s hard to find them. It’s hard to develop them. There’s not a guy in this room that would have said after the preseason that this guy [Minshew] is going to go out and play like he has. I think he’s changed the way I look at things in the preseason.

“I wasn’t sure. Then all of a sudden, when you don’t take a snap, you’re running the scout team and you get thrown in the game against Kansas City and you perform well. You don’t miss a beat.”

As Minshew's understanding of the offense increases and he gets more game experience, the expectations on him are growing. That is fine with him, because they’ll never be higher than his own.

“I don’t think it really changes,” he said. “I think you always hold yourself to the highest standard no matter who you are, no matter what position you’re in. So that hasn’t changed, and I have to keep trying to live up to the high expectations I set for myself.”