Dontavius Russell Jersey

The 2019 NFL Draft has officially wrapped up, and by all accounts, the Jacksonville Jaguars seem to be bringing in a great haul of rookies.

For me personally, this was an incredible experience, as I got to travel to Nashville and see the draft in-person for the first time. Now that the festivities are over, it’s time for Big Cat Country’s annual post-draft Q&A pieces with the folks who have covered the players throughout their college careers.

We start off our seven-part series by discussing Auburn defensive tackle, and Jacksonville’s seventh-round pick, Dontavius Russell. In an effort to learn more about Russell, I reached out to Jack Condon, managing editor of the quintessential Auburn Tigers website, College and Magnolia.

He turned out to be one of the surprises on a defensive line that’s had big-time recruits for years now. Russell wasn’t the most highly-rated guy coming out of high school, and he was overshadowed by guys like Montravius Adams and Derrick Brown (who’s projected to be a top ten pick in 2020). That said, he had offers from Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia, but chose to go to Auburn instead. Once on the Plains, he showed off a propensity to do the dirty work and let everyone else gain the glory on the front seven. Russell’s game is to clog things up, submarine blockers, and let the pass-rushers and linebackers eat. He finished with 153 tackles and six sacks in 50 career games, but he’s not going to be your primary pass rusher. He’s not even going to make that many tackles. He may not show up at all until you look back at the film and see him occupying two blockers at once, or getting a guy on the ground and causing a back to have to try to bounce things outside. He’s very strong, but he’ll need a little technique work to get him playing lower more consistently. He was one of the best and most dependable players on a defensive line that boasted some special talent over the past few seasons.

Looking at the Jags’ defensive line group, I think that there’s definitely going to be a challenge to make the 53-man roster, but Russell’s not the kind of guy to get discouraged and wilt in the face of a daunting task. Judging by what he did in college, the coaches should be impressed with him quietly doing his job and letting the stars make the big plays while he cleans up the messes. If I had to make a prediction, I think he’ll make the team in the end and see some playing time this year. His strength and calm demeanor will help him adjust to the NFL speed fairly quickly, and I think that’s what’ll ultimately help him the most when he gets to camp.

There were some that thought he might be Auburn’s first draft pick due to his play inside. However, most believed that he would end up getting drafted in the late rounds, and that’s exactly where he went. That was pretty consistent with the beliefs of most at College and Magnolia, but we would’ve thought he would go higher if he’d been having the kind of performances that Derrick Brown had last year. Of course, it’s thanks in large part to Russell’s play in the other tackle spot that Brown was able to do so much last year.

Gardner Minshew Jersey

JACKSONVILLE – Mike Leach likes a lot about Gardner Minshew.

“He’s very driven and passionate about football,” the Washington State Head Football Coach said of the quarterback the Jaguars selected in Round 6 of the 2019 NFL Draft. “He’s fearless.”

Minshew showed that fearlessness throughout his one season at Washington State, a season that transformed his football future – and that eventually led to what could be an opportunity to backup Nick Foles in Jacksonville.

It was a season that began in unlikely, storybook fashion.

“It has been crazy the journey I have been on this past year,” Minshew said Saturday shortly after his selection by the Jaguars. “I am so blessed and so fortunate to be where I am now.”

Minshew, after playing two seasons at East Carolina, was eligible to be a graduate transfer. His initial plan was to transfer to the University of Alabama, with his primary objective building a resume for a coaching career by spending a season around Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide’s coaching staff.

Leach watched Minshew’s video from East Carolina, and phoned Minshew with a different opportunity.

“We told him, ‘Do you want to go hold a clipboard at Alabama or do you want to lead the nation in passing at Washington State?’’’ Leach told Jaguars Radio and jaguars.com. “He dropped the clipboard and came to Washington State and led the nation in passing and was conference player of the year.”

Minshew (6-feet-1, 225 pounds) was the Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year and finished fifth in the 2018 Heisman Trophy voting, throwing for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns. His 367.6 passing yards a game and 468 completions led the FBS, and he was the lone player in the NCAA with six 400-yard passing games and 11 300-yard passing games last season.

“What he does best is he leads the unit,” Leach said. “He energizes the whole unit and moves the ball down field.”

Minshew this past weekend talked about having learned four different offenses while in college. He not only attended ECU and WSU, Minshew he began his college career at Troy before leading Northwest Mississippi Community College to the 2015 national title.

“I think it probably helps him be adaptable,” Leach said. “He has made plenty of moves.”

Leach also said Minshew “never takes a negative play.”

“There were some that were not his fault, but they were a negative play waiting to happen: ‘Oh, my gosh … here’s a sack,’ or, ‘Here’s a tackle for loss,’’’ Leach said. “He would literally carve a way to not give up a negative play. It was really quite impressive.

“What he does really well is respond after a bad play. He’s ready to go after the next play, and he’s not phased by the previous one no matter how great or how bad it is.”

A 2018 season that began for Minshew in storybook fashion ended in the most successful fashion in program history for the Cougars. They finished 11-2 – the most victories in school history and won the Alamo Bowl – and Leach said Minshew’s presence was critical to the success.

Ryquell Armstead Jersey

The biggest thing I took away from the teleconference with Temple running back Ryquell Armstead immediately following the NFL Draft was his demeanor and the fact he already took about himself as a part of the Jacksonville Jaguars running game. He told those of us on the conference call he wanted to help his new team become a stronger running team.

I know Tom Coughlin, with his “run-first” mentality for this organization, must have fallen in love with him when he heard those words. Armstead knows he comes to a situation where Leonard Fournette is the established starter on offense, but that does not mean the rookie cannot take carries away from the other backs in the running back room.

Things might have gotten a bit more crowded for the Jaguars in that department, but adding Armstead, a punishing runner to the fold can only help this rushing attack get better.

The Jaguars averaged only 107.7 yards a game last season, 19th in the NFL.

You cannot help but like a rookie who is ready to come to work and put in the effort to be the best and help a team, he is still acclimating to. Besides, the Jaguars are Armstead’s mother’s favorite team. It would appear to be a match made in NFL lore.

At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Armstead figures to bruise a few defensive linemen and running backs along the way. Much like Fournette, he is built to run between the tackles and run through the opposition. If the Jaguars plan to continue to follow the same running style under first-year offensive coordinator John DiFilippo, Armstead will become a tremendous asset to the roster.

Armstead ran for 2,812 yards and 34 touchdowns in four seasons at Temple. He rushed for 1,098 yards and 13 touchdowns on 210 carries this past season. That shows he grew as a runner as he matured as a player. Another trait the organization has to be pleased about.

Having Armstead follow Fournette’s career and knowing what he comes into with the Jaguars should make for an interesting camp, to begin with, this season.

Quincy Williams Jersey

American Team running back Taiwan Deal (21) stiff-arms National Team linebacker Quincy Williams during the first half of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl football game Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

JACKSONVILLE – Mitch Stewart doesn’t hide his feelings for Quincy Williams.

“He’s my guy,” Stewart told Jaguars Radio and jaguars.com this week.

Stewart, head football coach at Murray State University, feels that way for many reasons. One is that Williams was Stewart’s last recruit to sign with him as a Murray State assistant. Another is more pertinent to the Jaguars, who selected the linebacker in Round 3 of the 2019 NFL Draft.

“He tries to bend your face mask every chance he gets,” Stewart said. “I’ve never seen him get knocked back on contact.”

That physicality helped Williams be a draft-weekend surprise – and the Jaguars indeed surprised many by selecting him No. 98 overall in the ’19 draft.

But while Williams’ status as an FCS player meant his selection surprised analysts, NFL people knew Williams well. Stewart said teams called during the draft indicating Williams would be selected late in Round 3 or in Round 4 – and San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the draft, “That guy went exactly where he should have gone.”

“He’s a really good player,” Shanahan said.

Williams (5-feet-11, 225) – the older brother of former Alabama defensive tackle and 2019 No. 3 overall selection Quinnen Williams of the New York Jets – played in 43 games during his collegiate career with 231 tackles (142 solo), 18 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. But as much as statistics, what stood out about Williams collegiately was speed and hitting force.

“That’s his biggest strength,” Stewart said. “Every scout that came through would say, ‘This guy’s got old-school contact courage.’ When you watch his tape, that’s the first thing you see. The act of hitting somebody is not normal. When something’s coming at you, the normal human reaction is to duck or move out of the way, or dodge, or turn your head, or stop your feet.

“You try to teach these defenders to get your feet hot and run your feet on contact. That was the thing that stuck out immediately about Quincy, Day One on campus – immediately. Quincy never had that issue. It doesn’t matter what programs we faced – even the big-money games, against an SEC team or an ACC team – I’ve never seen that kid get knocked backward. He’s always going forward.”

Also standing out about Williams was his perseverance.

Stewart, then Murray State’s offensive coordinator, recruited Williams out of Birmingham (Ala.) Wenonah High School. He had to lobby hard with school officials for Williams because of what Stewart remembered as a low standardized test score.

“He’s got a soft spot in my heart,” Stewart said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a big, smiling kid and has a great personality. He’s a zest-for-life type of guy. He’s not lazy. He doesn’t walk around rubbing around his eyes and all that kind of stuff. When his feet hit the floor, he has purpose in what he’s doing.”

And while Williams emerged as a standout player for the Racers, success wasn’t automatic.

“One thing I respect about Quincy is he did it the tough way, the hard way,” Stewart said. “He was here for five years and he did the redshirt deal his first year. Anybody who’s even remotely familiar with college football knows kids aren’t into that schedule anymore. They want it now and when they don’t get it now, they’ll transfer. It’s kind of the college landscape and the way is now.

“He came in. He redshirted. He did the look squads. He would come to the offensive side and do the look squad – all of that stuff. He was a five-year guy.”

Stewart said Williams’ college career also was made difficult by the Racers having to move him around in the lineup to make up for injuries elsewhere – a pattern that only stopped when first-year defensive coordinator Jake Johnson committed to playing Williams at linebacker this past season.

“At the FCS level, a lot of times it’s not the backup who plays if there’s an injury,” Stewart said. “It’s the next-best guy. You’re just trying to get the best 11 on the field. That hurt his development a little, I think.

“Jake Johnson did a fabulous job with him. Quincy was a guy he kind of earmarked and said, ‘He’s going to stay at linebacker. I’m not moving him back to safety. I want to see how good this kid can get.’”

Stewart this week also discussed Marquez Sanford, a Murray State cornerback who signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted collegiate free agent after starting 32 of 44 career games with five interceptions and 31 passes defensed.

“One thing you’ll notice about him is he has tremendous confidence in himself,” Stewart said. “He’s not going to turn it down against anybody. He’s not going to be intimidated. He’s very comfortable in coverage.

“I believe he’ll turn some heads when he’s in camp. He just has that confidence about him.”