Milanovich getting the (play) call from Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE — In his debut Sunday as an NFL play-caller at TIAA Bank Field, Scott Milanovich is really playing with house money. So he might as well throw the kitchen sink at the Indianapolis Colts.
At 3-8, there’s no reason for the Jaguars’ quarterbacks coach to shrink the playbook. Even without a lot of first-team offensive personnel on the field, there’s no better time than now to be bold.
Why not try a couple of flea-flickers with new quarterback Cody Kessler? If the Colts are in the right defensive look, how about another jet sweep with receiver Dede Westbrook, a play that worked so perfectly last week against the Buffalo Bills? Any kind of trickery, maybe running backs T.J. Yeldon or Carlos Hyde attempting a pass, to move the chains would at least be intriguing to watch.
“I think we’re definitely at a place as an offense where (we can) shoot for the stars,” Jaguars tight end James O’Shaughnessy said. “See what happens. We can take risks because right now what do we have to lose?”
Sure, it could all backfire. But with the Jaguars mired in a seven-game losing streak and changes galore on the horizon, it’s not as if the organization would be taking a huge gamble by trying a little bit of everything to jump-start an anemic offense.
Milanovich, in his second season with the Jaguars, has taken over as the play-caller for dismissed offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett was fired Monday, the same day head coach Doug Marrone benched five-year starter Blake Bortles for Kessler.
Nobody is putting the Jaguars’ offensive system in cold storage, but the opportunity is there for Milanovich to add his own wrinkles, maybe force the Colts defense to adjust to something it doesn’t expect.
It’s hard to imagine Milanovich, 45, being timid in a difficult situation. He has plenty of experience as an offensive coordinator in NFL Europe (Rhein Fire and Cologne Centurions in 2005-06) and the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes, as well as a five-year head coaching stint with the Toronto Argonauts.
Granted, he’s about as handcuffed as any playcaller can be in this situation. Milanovich has a seldom-used quarterback making his first start in two years, an injury-riddled offensive line playing with three backups and primary offensive weapon Leonard Fournette sitting out this game due to an NFL sus- pension.
This is hardly an ideal scenario to light up a scoreboard, but the Jaguars can’t go all-out conservative if they’re going to try to keep up with the high-powered Colts offense. Quarterback Andrew Luck has eight consecutive games of at least three TD passes, including that 29-26 win over the Jaguars three weeks ago.
But Milanovich appears unfazed about running an attrition-plagued offense. It doesn’t change the fact he has to come up with a game plan to beat an AFC South rival.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Milanovich said. “I’ve got to call the game my way. I can’t worry about (how) anybody else wants it called. I think that’s where you get into issues.
“We’ll get a feel for the game. We’ll get a feel for what they’re doing, what our guys can execute, and I’ll call the game accordingly.”
Even if he downplays his new role as an audition for future job opportunities, don’t think Milanovich isn’t taking this game a little personally. That ’s because across the field is Colts head coach Frank Reich, who struck up a friendship with Milanovich nearly a decade ago.
When Reich was the Colts quarterbacks coach (2009-10), he was invited by Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman, then Milanovich’s boss, to Montreal to exchange ideas. As former Maryland quarterbacks, Reich and Milanovich bonded.
It led to Milanovich being invited to the Colts’ facilities over the next couple of years as the two studied film and got a feel for each other’s philosophies.
“I got to be around Scott for a whole week [in Montreal], watch him install their offense, watch him on the field ,” Reich said. “When I was coaching quarterbacks in Indianapolis, Scott used to come in for a couple days at a time just to talk football and stay up with what was going on in the NFL.
“He’s a really smart guy, a really good football mind. I got a lot of respect for him.”
Milanovich, who won the CFL Grey Cup in his first year as a head coach in Toronto, tried to entice Reich to be his offensive coordinator after the 2012 season, but he had already taken a job as the San Diego Chargers’ quarterbacks coach.
“We talk a million things — philosophies, RPOs,” Milanovich said of Reich. “He’s a great speaker. I like to listen to him. I always knew he’d be a great head coach because he’s so good in front of a room. So I like to hear his opinions on managing people, leadership, things like that.”
Quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich will call plays for the Jaguars offense for the first time Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.