Keep rollin', rollin', rollin'.
We're trucking right along with our 2021 Jaguars positional breakdown series here on genjag dot com.
So far, we've tackled:
As we rotate sides of the ball, we're pivoting back to offense on this blistering hot Duval day. It's time to look at the Jaguars' interior offensive line.
Instead of studying at the offensive line as a whole, which is a valuable exercise, we will break down the interior and the tackles separately. Because there are five total starters on the offensive line and a bevy of backups, this will give us the chance to go more in-depth with each group and player.
The Jaguars return all three starters on the interior of their offensive line as well as the primary backups at all three positions. The starting combination of Andrew Norwell at left guard, Brandon Linder at center, and AJ Cann at right guard, proved highly effective for the Jaguars in 2020. They'll also have their O-Line coach, George Warhop, back to continue teaching them up. It's cliche, but continuity is key along the offensive line. It also helps when your players are, you know, talented. Despite defenses keying on the run last season, these three helped pave the way for a 1,000-yard rusher in James Robinson. As a group, Norwell, Linder, and Cann surrendered only four sacks in 2020.
Norwell has been with the Jaguars since 2018 when he signed a deal that made him the highest-paid guard in football. While he hasn't lived up to that type of deal, Norwell has been one of the better pass-protecting offensive guards in football over the last three seasons, allowing just seven total sacks in 40 games. And he's not too shabby in the run game either. He can get overwhelmed by interior linemen with a lot of speed and power, but that can be said for most guards around the league. Norwell is 29 and heading into the second to last year of his contract. He should be expected to play at a high level for the Jaguars yet again.
At center, Brandon Linder might be the most underrated interior offensive lineman in the NFL today. There's only one issue with his game: health. Since the Jaguars drafted Linder in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he's played in 79 of a possible 112 games. Not great. But when healthy, and he is healthy right now, Linder is a BEAST. He's allowed seven total sacks in seven seasons and is a consistently effective run blocker. They don't make them much better than Linder. As long as he's on the field, the interior of the Jaguars' offensive line is in good shape. Like Norwell, Linder is also 29 and going into the second to last year of his contract.
AJ Cann, the starter at right guard, has had an up and down career. But he's coming off a darn good season. Cann didn't allow a single sack in 2020 and played pretty consistently throughout the campaign. He's not likely going to regress too much, considering he's in his prime at 29 years old, has the same O-Line coach, and the same guys playing next to him. Cann might not be on the same level as Linder or even Norwell, but he's a passable starter, to be sure. Cann is in the final year of his contract.
The two primary interior backups are Tyler Shatley and Ben Bartch.
Shatley has experience in the starting lineup at both guard and center. He's as strong — literally — as they come on the interior and is a valuable safety net for this offensive line. He signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2014 and has remained in Jacksonville his entire career. He's started 25 games and appeared in 94. In 2020, he played significant reps at left guard and center. If one of the top three guys goes down on the interior, Shatley will be there to plug the hole. He's playing on a one-year deal in 2021.
The Jaguars selected Ben Bartch in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The small school prospect from St. Johns College started his collegiate career as a tight end but added weight and wound up at tackle. He impressed at the Senior Bowl, but due to length and overall athleticism concerns, most NFL teams viewed him as an interior offensive lineman. The Jaguars drafted him to play guard. He got some playing as a rookie, registering 219 snaps and one start due to an injury to Andrew Norwell. During that lone start, Bartch allowed just one pressure and no sacks or quarterback hits. He'll need to improve from a technical standpoint with his footwork and hand placement, but he's likely to find his way into the starting lineup in 2022 or 2023 if he can show some development.
Will Richardson enters the final year of his rookie deal and has experience at both tackle and guard. He can certainly swing inside in a pinch but hasn't shown the ability to do so at a high level.
With a solid trifecta of starters on the interior of the offensive line, led by Brandon Linder, the Jaguars are strong in this area. Having a versatile backup in Tyler Shatley helps their cause, as does the young developmental talent, Ben Bartch. With a top-flight center, an excellent pass protecting left guard, a more than serviceable right guard, and quality depth, this group earns a B+ in my book. A veteran coach of nearly 40 years, George Warhop should get the best out of them again in 2021.
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