Is it time for NFL training camp yet? As we watch the Bucks fight to remain in the NBA Finals and the Lightning celebrate their second straight Stanley Cup run, football fans can't help but wish Amerca's game was back in the forefront. And it will be. Very soon. July is the last month of the year without football. And in less than a month, we'll get some football. Well, sort of. We'll get football practice, also known as training camp.
But for now, my task is to run through each and every position group on the Jaguars' roster. I'm providing some background on each of the players, analysis from an individual and group level, and grading the positions as a whole.
So far we've looked at:
Today, we'll be diving deeeep into the linebacker group.
In the ever-evolving world of football, off-ball linebackers are being significantly devalued, especially outside linebackers. It's important to distinguish the difference between a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 outside linebacker. In Jacksonville, where the 4-3 defense had been king for longer than I care to remember, outside linebackers were tasked with roaming from sideline to sideline, dropping in coverage, and just playing fast overall. Now, with Joe Cullen taking over as the defensive coordinator and bringing a hybrid 3-4 defense to Duval, our vernacular will need to change just a bit. Outside linebackers will now mainly refer to EDGE players like Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson. In the past, these two were labeled defensive ends because they primarily played with a hand in the dirt in the Jaguars' even front. But in odd add front, they'll be allowed to rush the passer from a two-point stance. They'll drop into some shallow zones and have some other small responsibilities, but their primary concern will be rushing the passer. All this to say, Myles Jack, who had been the team's starting weakside linebacker, will now be more of an inside backer in this 3-4 hybrid scheme, but his role won't change all that much. It's a bit confusing, I know. But for the sake of understanding the roles these players will take on this fall, we can simply refer to Allen, Chaisson, and the like as EDGE players. We'll refer to Myles Jack, Joe Schobert, and the more traditional linebackers as off-ball linebackers. Why the NFL doesn't accept this model when it comes to the Pro Bowl's positional classifications, I'll never know.
Today, we're talking about the off-ball linebackers. Joe Schobert and Myles Jack will be the two off-ball linebackers on the field most of the time. As I mentioned before, Joe Cullen, who was the Raven's defensive line coach before joining Urban Meyer's staff in Jacksonville, will bring over a 3-4 approach. But perhaps more importantly, he'll be running a ton of nickel and dime looks. That means there will be five to six defensive backs on the field the majority of the time. The Ravens are regularly among the teams that ran base defense the least. So that's exactly what you should expect in Jacksonville. And as it relates to the off-ball linebackers, that means there will only be room for two most of the time.
Joe Schobert is the quarterback of the defense. He'll receive the calls from Joe Cullen and will communicate them to the rest of the defense. The second-year Jaguar will be forced to learn yet another new system, and he'll need to know where every single position is supposed to line up on a given play. It's no easy task, but Schobert is accustomed to having to learn on the fly. At least this offseason, he's been able to learn in-person at the facility instead of trying to take lessons from zoom meetings and apply what he's learned to backyard or neighborhood training sessions. Schobert is now 27 years old and entering his sixth season in the NFL. The 6'1", 245-pound linebacker has been a tackling machine throughout his career, averaging 130 tackles per season over the last four. But not in the same way as former Jaguars' middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. Both players were/are excellent in the mental side of the game, getting their teammates in the right spot and reading keys. But Poz was an enforcer against the run. Schobert is a quality tackler, but he doesn't shut down opponents rushing attacks the same way Poz did. Conversely, Schobert is much better in coverage, especially dropping into shallow and intermediate zones. He's also got good range and a knack for creating game and driver-altering plays. Over the last four seasons, Schobert has registered 24 pass breakups, 21 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and nine interceptions. Unfortunately, he got off to a bit of a slow start in 2020, thanks in large part to an archaic defensive philosophy and an offseason program marred by a Pandemic. But he returned to his playmaking ways down the stretch, notching three interceptions in the final 11 games to go along with four tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. He should be in line for a more consistent 2021 season, thanks to a new, more focused regime, a linebacker-friendly defense, and a full offseason in Jacksonville.
Myles Jack started the 2020 season playing as good or better than any other off-ball linebacker in football. He was FINALLY allowed to play his most natural position at weakside linebacker, and he burst out the gates. But injuries and inconsistent contributions from those around him led to a bit of regression throughout the campaign. Still, Jack has received praise from around the league for his development and overall level of play in 2020. His talent has never been a question. A consensus top ten prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jack fell to the second round due to late concern about his knee. Then Jaguars' GM Dave Caldwell pounced at the opportunity to land Jack on day two of the draft, trading up to ensure he'd be coming to Duval. Much can be said about Dave Caldwell's failures as a roster builder, but trading up for Myles Jack was one of his more prudent moves during his time in Jax. Unfortunately, the Jaguars' defensive staff struggled to best utilize Jack until 2020. Like Schobert, Jack should be in line for an even better 2021 season. He'll be playing next to Schobert, who will take on the responsibility of getting the defensive lined up and will be allowed to play a see-ball, get-ball style.
Joe Schobert and Myles Jack will be critical to the defenses' overall success in 2021, and they should be up to the task. The only reason to expect any other off-ball linebackers to receive significant snaps on defense will be if injuries pop up.
Fortunately, there is some decent depth here. The Jaguars brought in Damien Wilson, who has experience at multiple spots and was a starter for the 2020 Super Bowl Champion Chiefs, to be the third off-ball linebacker on the depth chart. He's been a steady vet that helps with his leadership and experience.
Leon Jacobs, who played a ton of snaps for the Jaguars at SAM linebacker during his first two years in the league in 2018-2019, took more of a backseat in 2020, but he has the skill set to contribute if needed as someone who can drop in shallow zones, defend the run, and even rush the passer a bit.
The Jaguars drafted middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent about a month on injured reserve with a knee during the season, and his primary role was as a special teamer. A Jacksonville native, Quarterman was a captain at Miami and brings energy, enthusiasm, and strength to the position. He's not the greatest athlete, but as a developmental middle linebacker, Quarterman has plenty of promise and the right attitude.
Quincy Williams, a 2019 third-rounder, was forced to transition from safety to linebacker due to Telvin Smith's abrupt retirement and has struggled to make an impact. He possesses speed and tremendous overall athleticism but hasn't caught up from a mental standpoint yet. He should be able to contribute as a core special teamer in 2021.
Dakota Allen, a favorite of the previous coaching staff, is still in Jax as well. The Jags signed him during the 2019 season, and he's done enough to keep his job. Entering his third year as a pro, Allen still has room to develop into a primary backup type linebacker in this league.
Dylan Moses is a name that many college football fans will be familiar with. Prior to a 2019 knee injury, Moses was one of the best linebackers in college football and projected to be an early draft pick. But after not looking himself in 2020, Moses went undrafted. The Jaguars took him in and will try to get him to full health before putting anything else on his plate. If Moses can return to his pre-injury form at some point, the Jaguars might have found a diamond in the rough.
Finally, Chapelle Russell rounds out the group. The Bucs drafted Russell in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But after being promoted from the practice squad in early October, Russell was waived in January. Russell is tough, but after suffering two ACL tears in the same knee, he's fighting an uphill battle.
The Bottom Line:
As long as Myles Jack and Joe Schobert are on the field for the Jaguars, this team should get excellent contributions from their off-ball linebackers. As with most positions, should injuries strike, the Jags will be in a bit of a bind. But with Damien Wilson, they've at least got someone with plenty of experience. There are some young guys to feel good about, but they've yet to prove they can play consistently at this level. This group gets a B for more. The duo of Myles Jack and Joe Schobert should allow this unit to perform at a top ten level. And with Charlie Strong serving as the inside linebackers coach, they'll get top-notch coaching as well. Joe Cullen's scheme should get the most out of these linebackers.
How are you feeling about the Jaguars' off-ball linebackers heading into 2021? Let me know on Twitter!