The Jacksonville Jaguars have not yet decided on how to handle their quarterback depth chart when they face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence and backup C.J. Beathard were both limited participants in practice on Thursday due to injuries suffered in their Week 13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. That leaves Canadian Nathan Rourke as the lone healthy quarterback on the team’s payroll, but head coach Doug Pederson will not commit to dressing him on gameday.
“Nathan’s obviously on practice squad, so you can’t bring him up on an activation or an elevation, he’d have to come to the 53 in order to be your 49th guy like we did for New Orleans,” Pederson told the Jacksonville media ahead of practice on Friday. “Today’s a big day for us. We’ve got to get through today and we’ll make those decisions probably before we leave tomorrow.”
Lawrence suffered a high-ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of Monday’s contest and had to be helped off the field. He is expected to play on the short week despite the injury, with Pederson predicting a “questionable” designation for his franchise pivot and a “game-time” decision. Beathard would be the next man up, having completed 9-of-10 passes for 63 yards to finish the loss, but is nursing a shoulder injury.
The NFL instituted an emergency third-quarterback rule this offseason for just such a situation, which would allow the Jaguars to keep Rourke in uniform without using one of the 48 spots on the gameday roster and utilize him only if their first two quarterbacks were unable to finish the contest. However, the rule stipulates that the third quarterback cannot be one of the team’s temporary elevations from the practice roster, which would expose Rourke to waivers if he was sent back down and potentially allow him to be claimed by another team.
Jacksonville utilized that strategy in Week 7 in a win over the New Orleans Saints, signing Rourke to the 53-man active roster for four days while Lawrence played through a knee injury. The native of Oakville, Ont. successfully cleared waivers on that occasion but a growing number of teams could be in the market for a quarterback with injuries mounting late in the season.
Rourke has spent the remainder of his first NFL season on the practice squad after being waived by the Jaguars following training camp. During the preseason, he completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 348 yards with one touchdown, and zero interceptions while rushing 14 times for 39 yards and one touchdown.
The 25-year-old threw for 3,349 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions plus rushed for 304 yards and seven touchdowns over 10 games with the B.C. Lions in 2022. He was the first quarterback to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian since 1980 and helped the Lions reach the West Final despite playing with a lingering foot injury.
With the Jaguars facing injury questions at multiple positions, Pederson will have decisions to make about who to activate and is divvying out practice time accordingly.
“I’ve got to talk with both (coordinators) Press (Taylor) and Mike Caldwell and get a feel for who we need to activate but we’re giving guys reps who we think could possibly be in those roles,” he said.
Lawrence has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 3,004 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season along with 56 carries for 248 yards and four touchdowns. The Jaguars have an 8-4 record and lead the AFC South by one game over the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans.
Jacksonville travels to Cleveland to take on the Browns on Sunday, December 10 with kickoff slated for 1:00 p.m. ET.