After missing his entire rookie campaign, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne broke out during his second season.
Etienne rushed for 1,125 yards and five touchdowns on 220 totes and added 316 receiving yards on 35 catches, leading the Jags in scrimmage yards. His five games with 100-plus rush yards were tied for the fourth-most in the NFL. With 5.1 yards per carry, Etienne became just the third Jags player to rush for 5-plus yards per carry, joining Maurice Jones-Drew (2006) and Fred Taylor (2007).
Now, entering Year 3, Jaguars coach Doug Pederson is looking for Etienne to hit another level, specifically by getting downhill faster to pick up more chunk gains.
"It's one of the things that when we looked at his game this offseason back in February and March before the players came back, one of the things that we noticed was just him attacking the hole downhill," Pederson said Wednesday, via the team's official transcript. "Shoulders squared, attack the line of scrimmage, finding that crease where a lot of times you'll see him try to bounce. We were able to show him and really emphasize shoulders-squared, anticipating where the hole could be, and just trusting that.
"He's done an outstanding job. He's bought into that. He sees it, we've been able to show it to him. He's working on that in training camp right now."
Etienne's 234 rush yards over expected in 2022 ranked second in the NFL (behind only Nick Chubb), and his 1.1 yards over expected per carry was second-best (Tony Pollard) among backs with at least 150 carries.
However, as Pederson noted, turning 6-yard runs into 10-yarders is the next step for Etienne. The back generated 26 10-plus yard runs last season, ranking 13th in the NFL. His 11.8% 10-plus yard run rate finished 11th.
"That's the next step for him, I mean it was his rookie year," Pederson said. "You don't just hand a guy a ball and let him go run, sometimes that happens but there's that skill and ability to anticipate a hole. We always talk about speed through the hole, not to the hole type of thing. He's really embraced that this training camp. That, to me, is the next step for him and that 11-12-13, now the yards start creeping up, and maybe he's pushing 1,600-1,700 yards as a rusher."
The Jags' offense will flow how Trevor Lawrence and the passing game goes, but Etienne's ability to generate more first downs and add in the explosive play from the backfield will be key to Pederson's club repeating as AFC South champs.