JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Receiver Marqise Lee knew nothing about Gardner Minshew when the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted the quarterback in April.
Lee eventually learned a few details from teammates: Minshew bounced around in college, played his final season at Washington State, set a couple of Pac-12 passing records and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Lee also kept hearing about Minshew’s look, which included a thick headband and a bushy mustache. Lee didn’t think much about it until he saw Minshew in the locker room for the first time.
“The mustache was terrible,” Lee recalled. “I’m not going to lie to you.”
Minshew’s unique appearance has grown on Lee over the past five months.
“I love him. He looks good with it,” Lee said.
Lee and the Jaguars (0-1) believe Minshew will bring more substance than style to the huddle when he makes his first career start Sunday at Houston (0-1).
“If we can talk about (his mustache), then I know he’s playing well,” coach Doug Marrone said. “If he doesn’t play well, then I know we won’t be talking about his mustache.”
Minshew welcomed the opportunity even though it came amid less-than-ideal circumstances — a broken collarbone for starting quarterback Nick Foles .
“It’s just like any other week,” Minshew said. “Just trying to be the best I can for the team. The role changes, but the pressure doesn’t.”
Jacksonville used a sixth-round pick on Minshew, and it was clear on draft night that Minshew would be Foles’ backup this season.
Top executive Tom Coughlin, general manager Dave Caldwell and Marrone gushed about Minshew’s passing prowess as well as his ability to process information and communicate what he’s seeing with teammates and coaches.
Minshew continued to impress them over the summer and into training camp, so much so that the Jags didn’t even consider bringing in a veteran backup after he failed to lead the offense to a touchdown in 30 preseason drives.
And when Foles left the season opener with a broken left clavicle — he will be sidelined at least two months — the Jaguars turned to Minshew with far more fervor than fear.
“There’s going to be adversity, there’s going to be mistakes made,” tight end James O’Shaughnessy said. “But the best thing about him is he’s a guy that moves on and keeps rolling with the punches. … I’m just happy he’s getting his moment to shine.”
Minshew shined in college — eventually.
He started at Troy on an academic scholarship in 2014, transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College for a year and then moved to East Carolina in 2016. He graduated in December 2017 and planned to walk-on at Alabama. But before he finalized playing for the Tide, Washington State coach Mike Leach called and asked Minshew if he wanted to come lead the nation in passing.
Minshew jumped at the chance and ended up throwing for 4,779 yards, with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His set school and conference record for completions (479) and yards while leading the Cougars to 11 wins.
His NFL debut was equally eye-opening. He completed 22 of 25 passes for 275 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception that came off a tipped pass. His completion rate (88 percent) was the highest in league history for any quarterback with at least 15 pass attempts while making his first appearance.
“It was impressive,” Marrone said. “I think the challenge is, ‘Hey, listen, we have to repeat this. Where are we going to go?’ There are some people who will question whether he can keep it up. ‘Do you think he can do that again?’
“I think that’s the challenge, but the one thing I do know about the kid is that he will work his butt off this week and he will do everything he possibly can, which you appreciate. I think he will have confidence and I think our opponent will be trying to knock the confidence out of him.”