Steve Wilks Has Earned Head Coaching Interviews; Trevor Lawrence Arrives; And A Message About Tua Tagovailoa

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The Panthers beating the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday did not signal a seismic shift in the standings for either team, but it was potentially defining for the Panthers in that it thrust interim coach Steve Wilks to the front of the list of potential head coach hires in the offseason.

And I’m talking both in Carolina and elsewhere.

What Wilks has done with the Panthers in the two months since he became their coach has been impressive. He not only was part of a coaching change at the top, but then instituted changes to his staff. And working with a smaller staff, he’s overseen changes to the roster and the team’s general approach.

All those changes have led the Panthers to a 4-4 record under Wilks after starting 1-4 under Matt Rhule.

“You know, it’s thrilling, again, just for the men in that locker room, for how hard they work, how dedicated they have been,” Wilks told reporters late Sunday, his voice cracking at times. “We found ourselves to be able to work through it. Always talk about don’t allow it to get in the way, whatever it may be.

“It started with the coaching change. You know, I can go on and on with the different things, with players leaving, you know, coaches leaving, whatever. You know, those men in that locker room found a way to refocus and get it done.”

Steve Wilks Overcomes Obstacles Of Season

When Panthers owner David Tepper fired Rhule, he promised Wilks nothing other than a chance to coach until the end of the season and perhaps get one of the interviews for the head job when the hiring process begins. But that would only happen if Wilks performed at a certain level.

“Steve is familiar with the team, you know I have confidence in him and, we’ll see,” Tepper said, offering no guarantees.

Soon afterward the Panthers seemed to be tanking, trading receiver Robbie Anderson to Arizona, sending running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers, and cutting quarterback Baker Mayfield. Despite this, Wilks has endured.

And while the Panthers are not necessarily a good team, they are competitive and representative. Even without the starting running back, starting quarterback and a starting receiver they had on opening day.

Despite all this the Panthers did something Sunday they had not previously done this season which is go on the road to play a winning team and win in a playoff environment.

“With everything we’ve gone through, they’ve gone through, with the different coaching changes, you know, getting rid of players, organization trying to tank it, you know, all those different things, and to see how those guys responded and came out and played today,” Wilks repeated, “it is pretty thrilling emotionally, yes.”

It is definitely worthy of head coaching interviews ahead.

  

Head coach Doug Pederson of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence look on during the second half of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence Has Arrived

There’s always going to be another metric to meet or feat to accomplish before everyone acknowledges it has happened. But I don’t need to see more to know:

Trevor Lawrence has arrived.

I saw what Lawrence did to the Tennessee Titans when he lit them up for 368 passing yards and 3 TDs. And I saw what happened at the end when the Jacksonville Jaguars were in victory formation.

Lawrence took the snap and when one of the Titans defensive linemen got physical with his center, Lawrence got in the defender’s face. And when the 36-22 Jacksonville victory was over, Lawrence began waving good-bye to his opponents.

That is kind of edgy and jerky and, I love it.

It speaks to the confidence and fire Lawrence is showing that is powered, in part at least, by his incredible play the last month or so.

Lawrence In Rare Company

Lawrence is one of 10 NFL quarterbacks with at least 10 touchdown passes since November. But he’s the only one without an interception. And what he did against the Titans, complete over 70 percent of his 42 attempts while accounting for 4 TDs and no turnovers is elite stuff.

Lawrence, by the way, did this while nursing a sore ankle that kept him out of practice last week.

“It’s not necessarily something you think about but obviously every week you want to, as a
quarterback, play as good as you can because when the quarterback plays it gives you a chance
to win every week,” Lawrence said.

So what else does Lawrence need to do to convince everyone he’s arrived?

“Other than winning a Super Bowl?” coach Doug Pederson said. “I’ll tell you this. He’s been able to handle everything. And now he’s battling the injury this week and put the team sort of on his back like he did again today just shows the type of player and person that he is and how tough he is.

“He’s the right leader for us. And, we’re excited to have him as our quarterback. And he can only get better, you know, and that’s the, I think, that’s the one thing that I’m most encouraged about is just how much more we can pour into him as he leads this team.”

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looks to throw a pass during the first half against the Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A Message To Dolphins Fans

Earlier this season, when things were going well and Tua Tagovailoa was lighting up the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, Dolphins fans decided their starting quarterback was elite and an MVP candidate and about to take over the NFL.

The pundits on ESPN and FOX Sports generally agreed and even Tagovailoa talked about keeping receipts of past criticisms.

Now, after two disappointing outings against the San Francisco 49ers and Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, everyone seems to be exiting the Tua is elite bandwagon. Even Tagovailoa is displeased.

“To have gone out this week and played the way that we played, especially on my part, that is unacceptable,” Tagovailoa said.

And here’s my advice to fans and pundits about this Tua obsession:

The story is not yet fully written. There will be many more chapters. But in all likelihood what the Dolphins have is a good quarterback.

And good quarterbacks have great games. And good quarterback have rough games. But the mean is well above average compared to the rest of the NFL.

Tagovailoa is generally very accurate. He is a generally going to find the receivers he’s coached to find. But he is also generally going to struggle finding answers to problems he hasn’t been prepared to solve.

He has not proven he’s an off-script playmaker who can freelance a team to victory.

This is why I cautioned those who were ready to label Tua, among other quarterbacks, as “franchise QBs” so soon.

Difference Between Tua And Off-Script Players

Dan Marino could freelance with throws no other human could make. Tom Brady freelances with pocket movement that is unmatched. Josh Allen freelances with his legs. Patrick Mahomes freelances with his legs and his 1,245,859 launch points.

Tagovailoa is an on-schedule player. He’s very good at painting by numbers.

That is not a knock. That’s … good.

But will he ever be Rembrandt or Michaelangelo? I don’ t know.

Until we find out, he’s going to win a lot of games doing what he’s doing. Progressing as he’s been progressing.

As long as Tagovailoa stays healthy, he’ll do well painting the numbers he’s coached to paint.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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