The Jacksonville Jaguars left their bye week with a win under their belt and momentum off which to build. After six games—and 11 to go—where does this team stand? The first five losses painted a picture of a team with lots of places to improve, but some positives that can be taken away as well.
Through this series, we’ll examine each unit; what’s worked, what hasn’t and what grade they’ve earned thus far. Next up, the linebacker corps.
When the Jaguars traded away Joe Schobert this offseason to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the move said the club felt comfortable with what they had in Damien Wilson. The middle linebacker spent the previous two seasons in with the Kansas City Chiefs, starting for the unit in route to two Super Bowl appearances (and one win). Schobert was good in coverage, where as Wilson is more of a thumper, something the Jags knew they needed for run defense.
Through the first third of the season, Wilson has helped in that area, as the Jags have improved from 30th in run defense in 2020, to currently 17th in the league. Wilson has only missed three tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, and the analytical site has only given Wilson a sub-50 grade one week; Week 5 when facing the Tennessee Titans and Derrick Henry.
Behind Wilson, local product Shaq Quarterman has seen more playing time, albeit still a relatively small amount and other than the Titans game, has held up in the run game as well, with 11 tackles and only two misses.
Much of the linebacker’s role was eased as the defensive line saw more beef added. While the latter is still not where it wants to be, more pressure up front has trickled back to the linebacker corp, allowing them to play a little freer.
Let’s preface this section by noting, Myles Jack’s actual play is—as always with him—stifling and unforgiving. But the coaching staff put him in a bad spot at the beginning of the year, simply by not recognizing what he did well. For a new staff, that would be understandable…if it weren’t for the fact the last staff had figured out how to best use Jack and then Head Coach Urban Meyer bragged about how much he’d studied his team.
A quick study of Jack would show how he struggled when at MIKE and/or given extra responsibility. When Doug Marrone and Todd Wash moved Jack back to WILL last season, he was able to play free. In turn he had one of his best overall seasons to date.
Yet Meyer and defensive coordinator Joe Cullen decided that even with Jack still at weak side backer, they would have him making the calls on the field. He did this in tandem with safety Rayshawn Jenkins. The result was a discombobulation on calls, miscommunication and Jack being stripped of the laid-back style that is his calling card.
Jack’s best usage is not a particularly hard one to figure out. Asking him to be something he’s not is a disservice to not only himself, but the linebacker corp and Jaguars defense overall. This is one of the biggest downsides to trading Schobert. The former MIKE could handle all of the field general aspects for the defense and he developed a quick chemistry with Jack. Again, with the Jaguars new defense, trading Schobert to keep Wilson makes sense. But this staff and Wilson are still learning to play around Jack. As one of the most talented defensive players on the field, he shouldn’t be an afterthought. Instead, decisions should be made to keep him comfortable.
Overall Grade: B-
This corp seems to have the pieces in place they want and can become a solid unit with who is here. But it will require playing to the strengths of each inside linebacker, and that starts with Myles Jack.