Andrew Wingard keeps beating odds to remain a key figure in Jaguars' defense, special teams

Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard (42) celebrates his interception last week against Tennessee with teammate Josh Allen (41).
Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard (42) celebrates his interception last week against Tennessee with teammate Josh Allen (41).

Being August, it was hot and humid at the Episcopal School's Knight Campus.

It was getting ragged at the end of a Jaguars training camp session and after the offense had a sloppy sequence of plays, coach Doug Pederson blew the whistle to end practice a few minutes early.

One player wanted to stay on the field.

"Hey!" yelled safety Andrew Wingard at the coaches, his long, flowing locks of blond hair soaked in perspiration. "We need our reps, too!"

Months later, Pederson said he didn't hear Wingard begging for one more rep. But he's not surprised it happened.

"He wears his emotions on his sleeve and it's great to see," Pederson said of the Jags' fourth-year safety who is enjoying his best season. "He's very passionate about this organization, his players, his teammates. We ask him to do a lot."

More Jaguars coverage

Changing the call:Jaguars coach Doug Pederson isn't questioning Trevor Lawrence's freelance touchdown

Up-down drill:The good, bad and ugly from Tennessee Titans game

Turnover chain:Jaguars defense abused by Derrick Henry — until they began to rack up the turnovers

Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell also didn't hear Wingard that day. But he thinks he knows what happened when the team bus arrived back at TIAA Bank Field.

"If he doesn't get a rep, he's going to have his nose in [the playbook], he's going to watch film, he's going to come in with questions," Caldwell said. "He's a guy that you love to have on the team because he does it the right way, practices the right way, plays special teams, then, when called upon, he goes out there and makes plays."

Rookie linebacker Chad Muma, who played with Wingard for two seasons at Wyoming, said Wingard has never changed from college to the NFL.

"He's someone that will bring the juice," he said. "He does a great job of encouraging everyone, finding a way to make plays and then celebrating those plays."

Wingard keeps making plays

The training-camp chatter in August was that Wingard, an undrafted free agent rookie in 2019, might be expendable with the ascension of 2021 third-round draft pick Andre Cisco.

Wingard started 15 games last year, a career-high in the NFL. He's played in 56 of 61 games, has 33 special-teams tackles, the most of any active Jaguar player (Rayshawn Jenkins has 30) and has 159 tackles overall, five for losses, two on sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

But Cisco is bigger, faster and a second-day draft pick who may not have gotten enough of a chance to prove himself as a rookie in 2021 by the previous coaching staff.

And Wingard also has been a bit of a whipping boy over the years by fans on social media, and on occasion, the media in general, who seem to take great delight in pointing out every missed tackle or blown coverage.

Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard has bucked the odds at every level of football and is one of the most versatile players on defense and special teams.
Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard has bucked the odds at every level of football and is one of the most versatile players on defense and special teams.

He's still here, mainly because he has a way of making enough plays — and be willing to fill any role — to keep his roster spot.

And even the harshest critic can't question his effort.

"I just consider myself a football player," said Wingard. "I can do a lot of different things within a football game. But I really enjoy having a job. I love being employed."

Wingard said he doesn't let outside criticism bother him, although he does seem to have a chip on his shoulder at times.

After making several key plays in the Jaguars' victory over Las Vegas last month, he greeted several members of the media who made a beeline for his locker by opening his arms wide and proclaiming, "they love me now!"

But he said it's not a "me against the world" mentality.

"It's more me just trusting God's plan," he said.

Wingard has started the last three games, against the Ravens based on the defensive scheme the Jaguars employed that game, and against Detroit and Tennessee after Cisco was out because of a shoulder injury.

Wingard snatched one of the Jags' four turnovers in the 36-22 victory over the Titans with his fourth career interception and had seven tackles to give him 18 in the last three games. He had career highs of nine total stops and seven solos against the Lions.

Wingard impacted recent wins

Wingard has made significant contributions in each of the last three Jaguars' victories.

◦ His interception against the Titans this past weekend led to a field goal by Riley Patterson.

◦ In the 28-27 victory over the Ravens, he forced a fumble by Gus Edwards and Tyson Campbell recovered, and the Jags went on to get the go-ahead points on a Riley Patterson field goal.

◦ Four weeks ago, Wingard had to come in for an injured Jenkins with more than 10 minutes left against Las Vegas. On his first play Wingard blitzed and forced Derek Carr into throwing an incompletion on third down. On the next possession, he blitzed to force an incompletion, then tackled Josh Jacobs for a short gain on the next play with a good open-field tackle.

"He seizes every opportunity he has," Muma said.

Wingard made his interception after hurting his right shoulder making a tackle on the Titans' first possession. He was listed as questionable to return after the play but Pederson said he had no question that Wingard would be back.

"A tough, tough kid," Pederson said. "Obviously that was a good shot he took on a good tackle on the sideline and just out for a couple of plays and came back in. Just shows his toughness."

But if Cisco returns and Wingard is relegated back to special teams, he'll give the same effort. He's tied with Caleb Johnson for the most special-teams tackles with 12.

Wingard said he has been re-energized under Pederson and praised the coach's positive attitude that permeates throughout the building.

"Whenever you're trying to turn something around, you want a good, positive attitude that really sheds light on guys," he said. "It makes you feel that things are attainable."

Wingard said in one recent interview that he "would die for Doug Pederson."

'A pent-up ball of energy'

Wingard was born in Arvada, Colo., the son of Dan and Missy Wingard. His father was a punter at Nebraska and is now an airline pilot — and gave his son the nickname that lasts to this day, "Dewey."

Wingard described himself as "a little pent-up ball of energy" as a youngster but he was able to work out some of that energy by playing and riding horses on his grandfather's ranch. He eventually learned to ski, drive a snowmobile and enjoyed the Rocky Mountain outdoors life to the hilt.

"We're all wired differently," he said. "Maybe I had some undiagnosed ADHD. I was always running around, doing something. Energetic, enthusiastic ... I had to keep moving."

Wingard's athletic ability began to bloom at Ralston Valley High School, where he played football, and basketball and ran the hurdles in track (with a low time of 14.76 in the 110-meter hurdles).

But the first of a series of perceived slights came late in his freshman football season when several players were called up to the varsity — but not Wingard.

"I was determined to prove them wrong the next year," he said.

Not only he did prove them wrong but he became a three-year starter at running back and posted two 1,000-yard seasons.

As a senior, he never left the field. He gained 1,653 yards on the ground, caught 37 passes for 393 yards, scored 33 touchdowns and collected 96 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries on defense.

Andrew Wingard was first-team All-Mountain West selection twice at Wyoming and was fourth in the NCAA in tackles per game as a senior in 2018.
Andrew Wingard was first-team All-Mountain West selection twice at Wyoming and was fourth in the NCAA in tackles per game as a senior in 2018.

Wingard began playing defense at his own request entering his senior year. The coaches at Wyoming, the only FBS school that showed him interest, suggested they might convert him to safety anyway, so he asked to go both ways.

"It was FBS or bust for me," he said. "Only Wyoming offered me."

It was another slight that Wingard seized and used as motivation. He started 11 games as a freshman and led the Mountain West and was fourth in the nation in solo tackles with 6.9 per game.

Wingard went on to earn All-Mountain West first-team honors twice and finished second on the Wyoming career list with 454 tackles. He had 10 career interceptions and five forced fumbles.

More long odds in NFL

Despite good numbers at the combine and lights-out statistics for the Cowboys, Wingard went undrafted. The Jaguars pounced on him after the draft and he entered camp as one of eight safeties, with the team planning to keep five at the most.

Wingard scrapped, hustled and clawed his way onto the roster. He made two special-teams tackles in the opening game of the season and since then it's been a constant quest: get on the field, any way possible, at any position.

"I enjoy that moment where you're either going to make it or not," he said. "I thrive on having to maximize opportunities."

Wingard has been through the few high points and numerous low points with the Jaguars in the last four seasons but has never once indicated he wanted to go elsewhere. He signed a one-year contract for $2.43 million as a restricted free agent before the season and will be an unrestricted free agent for 2023 unless the Jaguars resign him.

By all accounts, the organization wants to keep a guy who seems to bleed teal and black and has played for four coaches and four coordinators.

"He’s been through a lot with this team," Pederson said. "He’s been here now for a while and hasn’t had the success that he probably had hoped for [but] he's a core leader on this team. He just means a lot to the organization, to the team, to the locker room. Just a fine young man.”

Caldwell, who has struggled to get a defense filled with first-round draft picks and high-priced free agents on the same page, said the backbone of any successful team needs to have a few vertebrae like Wingard.

"If I ever have a problem, need to put somebody out there, I know he’ll go out there, and he plays with so much energy and so much excitement, it really just feeds to the rest of the guys," Caldwell said. "Guys in that locker room listen to him because they see what he does on the field and they see what he does on the practice field.  When he gets an opportunity to make a play, he makes plays.”

Contact Garry Smits at gsmits@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @GSmitter

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars' safety Andrew Wingard a key contributor on defense, special teams