When the Jacksonville Jaguars released their depth chart ahead of Week 1, not many things looked out of place. Trevor Lawrence will start at quarterback while C.J. Henderson is back in the starting defense after missing a good part of training camp. However, the fact that Andrew Wingard will start at safety was rather surprising.
Wingard signed with the Jags as an undrafted free agent in 2019. After being mostly relegated to special team duties in his rookie campaign, his playing time on defense went up considerably last season. Heading into the 2021 season, he looked like a dark-horse candidate to get the starting nod over veteran Jarrod Wilson, Josh Jones, Andre Cisco, Daniel Thomas, and even free-agent acquisition Rudy Ford.
Nevertheless, Wilson was released in the last round of roster cuts, and Jones is currently on Injured/Reserve. This paved the way for Wingard to seize the starting job.
Clearly, the coaching staff believes the Wyoming product is a better option than Thomas and Ford. Otherwise, he wouldn’t start but is he better than Cisco? Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen recently brought some clarity to the situation.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are high on both Andrew Wingard and Andre Cisco.
Cullen met with the local media Thursday and touched on several topics, including Wingard’s spot on the depth chart. When asked how far behind Cisco is from Wingard, the defensive coordinator said that both safeties will play.
"He’ll be playing as well. Anybody up is a starter, so if you get that well, the depth chart says this, says that. If they’re up with a helmet, they’re starting because they’re going to go into the game and really any given time in certain positions. That’s one of them, Cisco, could be in their second series third series."
When asked what the Jaguars like about Wingard, Cullen spoke highly of him. He described the safety as reliable, tough, and physical, “you know what he’s going to do when the ball snaps, he’s going to do his responsibilities”.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have options at safety.
Cisco likely has a bigger ceiling than Wingard but he might not be ready for a full-time job yet. That’s the most logical reason why Wingard will get the start. Cisco was a ballhawk back at Syracuse, posting 13 interceptions and 14 passes defensed in 24 collegiate games.
On the other hand, Wingard has two years of experience in the NFL and could be a better option in the short term. It could be counterproductive to let Cisco start and bench him if he struggles; his confidence could take a hit. Instead, it looks like the team wants to make sure he’s ready to go before he gets the nod.
In the end, it’s just a matter of time before Cisco starts. The Jaguars can afford to bring him along slowly and progressively increase his workload. Maybe Wingard exceeds expectations and keeps the starting job. If that’s the case, the Jags would have a good problem at hand. If he doesn’t, they can simply replace him with Cisco in the lineup.