Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke is back in his home and native land after offseason workouts with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the 25-year-old believes he’s made a solid first step toward his goal of making an NFL roster.
“It’s been positive. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everyone down there and getting acclimated to American football again and trying to learn that offence,” Rourke said in an interview with TSN’s Farhan Lalji on Thursday. “I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of the teammates down there and the coaches, and I’m really liking the experience so far.”
The Oakville, Ont. native signed with the Jaguars in January after an extensive NFL workout tour, inking a three-year contract that contains $221,000 USD in guaranteed money. The move raised some eyebrows north of the border, given that Jacksonville has a young franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence.
The first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence was considered to be a generational talent at the position and delivered with his first Pro Bowl selection in 2022. He threw for 4,113 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 17 games last season, leading the Jags to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
While the former NCAA National Championship MVP’s presence means that Rourke has no short-term path to a starting job, he is savouring the opportunity to learn from a premier player.
“Just to be able to watch him and kind of see the way he processes the game, he’s obviously incredibly talented and the building thinks the world of him. To see him be able to be a franchise quarterback, to kind of show what it is to do just that, I think that has been important for me to be able to learn and continue to take bits and pieces from him,” Rourke explained.
“But also being able to learn from C.J. Beathard, who is the other quarterback there and who has been a vet for a number of years. To be able to see their processes has been a true treat for me.”
The homegrown pivot did pretty well as the face of the B.C. Lions’ franchise in 2022, completing 78.7 percent of his pass attempts for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 games. He also ran the football 39 times for 304 yards and seven scores, becoming the first quarterback to win the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian award since 1980.
The 24-year-old went 8-1 as a starter before undergoing surgery in August to repair a Lisfranc sprain in his foot. Though the injury was originally thought to be season-ending, he was able to return for the final week of the regular season and play the first quarter of a meaningless contest against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
He started the West Semi-Final the following week and threw for 321 yards with two touchdowns in a 30-16 victory over the Calgary Stampeders. He and his team were eliminated from postseason contention against Winnipeg the following week after he threw for 300 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 28-20 loss in the West Final.
Prior to signing in Jacksonville, Rourke was vocal about his desire to join an NFL team where there was a path to a number two job next season. The Jaguars appeared to offer that, before they elected to re-sign the veteran Beathard to a two-year contract with over $2.75 million in guarantees.
Still, head coach Doug Pederson appears content to carry just three quarterbacks into the season: Lawrence, Beathard, and Rourke. With new NFL regulations dictating the presence of an emergency third quarterback on gameday, that means a solid amount of job security for the youngster and plenty of audition time in the lead-up to the season.
“I just want to be able to make the roster and make sure that I can contribute. I still think that that goal is attainable,” Rourke said. “I think I’m going to be in a position where I’m going to be on the field a lot in the preseason and get some reps during training camp.”
“Obviously, going into Trevor’s second year in the offence, I think he doesn’t have a lot to prove to the coaching staff and it just bodes well for a guy like myself trying to make an impact. I think it’s a great situation to still be able to get reps and get better every single day and hopefully prove something to the club and other clubs around the league as well.”
After lighting up the CFL, Rourke is busy re-acclimating to the American game. While throwing into tighter windows against faster athletes will take some getting used to, he admits that adjusting to life as a backup might be the biggest challenge.
“When you get used to taking all the reps in B.C., I think you certainly have to readjust back to being a backup. I did that in ’21 behind Mike Reilly and you certainly have to relearn how to take mental reps,” he acknowledged.
“I think that’s been an important part of these last couple of months, but I think that’s just a part of being a pro. You don’t always get to be the number one guy but you have to prepare like you are.”
Rourke is set to report to Jaguars’ training camp with the rookies on Friday, July 21, with main camp kicking off on Tuesday, July 25. The team will open their preseason in Dallas on Saturday, August 12.