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With Travis Etienne out and their offense in disarray, should Jaguars sit Trevor Lawrence?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line has not played well in the preseason, the two best linemen are hurt, and coach Urban Meyer told the ESPN Monday Night Football crew that he has no idea what the team’s offensive identity is.

The receivers aren’t exactly getting a lot of separation, either, and there’s not much of a receiving threat available at tight end.

That’s significantly concerning, but now comes the news that rookie running back Travis Etienne Jr. – drafted to provide the big plays this offense lacked last year — will miss the season because of a Lisfranc injury to his left foot.

But as bad as all that is, it still makes little sense for the Jaguars to sit quarterback Trevor Lawrence — an idea that was floated on the Monday night broadcast.

There’s an argument that doing so would protect the franchise’s long-term investment, especially if the offensive line isn’t any better at pass protection than it was in the first two preseason games. The last thing the Jaguars need is what happened to 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow as a rookie: a near constant battering that eventually ended with Burrow on IR with a serious knee injury.

But Lawrence needs to play. Sitting will stunt his development. The staff has already robbed him of valuable first-team practice reps by having him rotate days with Gardner Minshew II throughout training camp. He can only learn so much watching from the sideline.

Put him on the field and let him grow. He needs to see how defenses disguise coverages. He needs to learn to figure out blitzes, experience the tighter windows for throws, adjust to the speed of the game, and learn what kind of chances he can take – and when to take them. He’ll get none of that from the bench.

Lawrence has plenty of confidence in his abilities. He has mentally handled being the No. 1 prospect in the country and a lock to be the No. 1 draft pick from the moment he stepped onto Clemson’s campus. He has played in a lot of big games on big stages. He beat Alabama in the national championship game as a freshman.

If things don’t go well in 2021 — if he throws a lot of interceptions, struggles to read defenses at times or can’t find any consistency — he’s not going to fall apart. If there was any worry that he would, then he shouldn’t have been the No. 1 pick.

Losing Etienne hurts, but the Jaguars aren’t bereft of offensive talent. James Robinson ran for 1,070 yards, caught 49 passes and scored 10 total touchdowns last season. Carlos Hyde ran for 1,070 yards in 2019. Receiver Marvin Jones Jr., has had nine touchdown catches in three of the last four seasons and has surpassed 900 yards receiving in three of his eight seasons.

Receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. was a second-round pick who has been impressive in camp, and DJ Chark Jr. was a Pro Bowler and 1,000-yard receiver in 2019. Phillip Dorsett II has the deep speed Meyer loves. So there are some playmakers.

There’s no guarantee the offensive line will be better in 2022, anyway. Left guard Andrew Norwell, left tackle Cam Robinson and right guard A.J. Cann are in the final year of their respective contracts. The Jaguars are unlikely to bring Robinson back, and rookie Walker Little has a lot of work ahead of him to take over. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor doesn’t look any better than he did in 2020, when he gave up a league-high 18 sacks, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The Jaguars can’t fix all those spots in one offseason.

If the offensive line’s struggles are so bad that the concern is Lawrence won’t stay healthy, isn’t it logical to assume Minshew also would get hurt? And if the staff is really that concerned about Lawrence getting hurt behind that offensive line, it’s their job to figure something out. Run more RPOs. Roll him out more. Quick throws. Incorporate more of the spread offense Meyer ran at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Try something instead of just letting Lawrence get battered around back there.

Work around the problem.

But don’t put Lawrence on the bench.

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