Myles Jack has had a frustrating couple of seasons in Duval, to say the least. His move to middle linebacker entering the 2018 campaign, has yielded ... less than ideal results.
But Jack was once considered a lock to be selected in the top ten picks of the 2016 NFL Draft (that is, before a seemingly false report about his knee saw him plummet all the way to waiting arms of Dave Caldwell and the Jaguars in the second round). To understand why, we need to go back to 2017. You remember — the season in which the Jaguars were minutes away from outlasting Tom Brady's Patriots and punching the first ticket in franchise history to football's grandest stage?
MYLES JACK WASN'T DOWN?!
But that gut-wrenching missed call in the AFC title game isn't the reason for our trip down memory lane. No, we're here to help re-remember how good Myles Jack can be. 2017 was Jack's second year in the league. After Gus Bradley and Todd Wash allowed their prodigious young linebacker to rot on the bench for much of his rookie year, he jumped onto the scene as a sophomore, primarily playing SAM linebacker. He also kicked inside in the Jaguars' nickel package. Jack excelled in all facets of the game for the Big Cats in '17 — he was sticky in coverage, stout against the run, and had a knack for making game-changing plays.
Do you recall when Jack racked up 14 tackles in a blow out win over the Texans in week one of 2017? Welcome to the NFL, Deshaun Watson.
How 'bout week four in the Meadowlands when MJ tallied nine tackles and returned a fumbled screen pass 80 yards to the house against the Jets?
Or his pivotal third-down sack of Tyrod Taylor late in the fourth quarter of the Wild Card round of the playoffs?
His toe-tapping tip-drill to himself on a Big Ben pass in Pittsburgh that helped set the tone for the rest of the Divisional Round of the playoffs??
And of course, how could we forget his performance in the AFC Championship against the Patriots in Foxborough — seven tackles, a hit on Tom Brady, and a game-changing forced fumble against Dion Lewis. Myles Jack Wasn't Down.
Myles Jack realized much of his potential that fateful year. He played every single defensive down for the Jaguars. Jack made more than a handful of "did he really just do that?!" plays. He played with palpable energy and reckless abandon. MJ totaled 109 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six passes defended, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, an interception, a forced fumble, and a defensive touchdown in 2017 (including the playoffs).
So what happened in 2018 and 2019?
Not only was Jack tasked with playing middle linebacker full time, but he also saw the linebacker play around him go by the wayside.
It's easy enough to understand why the switch to middle linebacker didn't go well for Myles. Having primarily played on the outside in college and during his best year in the NFL, Jack now had to be the coach on the field for the entire defense. When you're the full-time middle linebacker, you have to make all the calls, make sure everyone is lined up in the right spot, and that's all before the snap. Not only did Jack have to know his assignment, but he also had to be responsible for understanding everyone on the entire defense's job. After the snap, Jack had to be aware of the whole field in front of him, the slightest misstep or momentary hesitation cost him over the last two years. Even being the supreme athlete that he is, Jack frequently wasn't able to recover when being burdened by the weight of the entire defense.
Paul Posluszny was the Jaguars' starting middle linebacker from 2011-2017. He retired after helping mold the new wave of linebackers in Jacksonville and making it to the playoffs for the first time in his impressive career. Posluszny wasn't an athletic linebacker by any stretch of the imagination, and Poz struggled in one-on-one coverage. But he was so cerebral and such a fantastic student of the game, that he became one of the best middle linebackers in football. Posluszny owned his role like few others have for the Jaguars. He relished the opportunity to be a master communicator and indeed was the quarterback of the Jaguars' defense. After Poz hung up his cleats, that task fell to Myles Jack. It wasn't always smooth sailing for Jack in the middle during the 2018 campaign, but with Telvin Smith next to him, Jack enjoyed some success in '18. Still, he wasn't nearly the player that we all saw in 2017.
The 2019 season was a completely different story. After Telvin Smith's abrupt retirement, Jack was the last man standing from the Jaguars' remarkable 2017 linebacking crew. Jack regularly tried to do too much in an attempt to make up for the deficiencies of the players around him. Whether it was Quincy Williams or any of the other handful of linebackers the Jaguars trotted out on the field last year, it wasn't enough. Jack was alone and had far too much responsibility. Jack played in 11 games in 2019 before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. It was the first time he missed a game for the Jaguars — he had played in 59 consecutive games.
But Myles Jack's reign of terror will resume in 2020.
Two words: Joe Schobert.
The Jaguars signed Joe Schobert to a five-year deal worth an average of nearly $11 million this offseason. The former Brown reminds me a lot of Paul Posluszny. Not because of what he does after the snap, but due to his ownership of the defense before the ball is hiked. Schobert will be able to get the Jaguars' defense lined up, make pre-snap calls and changes, all while allowing Myles Jack to focus on what's in front of him.
Schobert said as much last week: "My goal for me coming in here is to just take things off of the plate, being able to set the defenses, make the calls, make the checks and their adjustments and let Myles just go be an athlete out there and wreck the game which he has the ability to when he doesn't have to be caught up in trying to get other people lined up and be responsible for all that communication."
Having a player with Schobert's understanding of the position and the defense as a whole will improve Myles Jack's game in a major way. Not to mention the fact that Schobert is very capable of playing consistent football himself. He's one of the better coverage linebackers in football, and he's routinely among the league's leaders in tackles.
Scho's addition also allows Jack to play his most natural position, weakside linebacker. Being responsible for just one side of the field will help Jack focus and play with the same reckless abandon that we saw in his younger days. Jack could play even better than he did in 2017. A scary thought for opposing offensive coordinators.
Joe Schobert's presence is invaluable.
But of course, there are other developments that will help Myles Jack wreak havoc on opposing offenses once again.
Adding Al Woods and DaVon Hamilton to eat up space in the middle of the defensive line will allow Jack, Schobert, and the rest of the Jaguars' linebackers to roam more freely towards the ball.
The Jaguars are the youngest team in the NFL. They might not be ready to compete at the highest level week in and week out in 2020. But as long as Joe Schobert and Myles Jack are on the field, their defense will perform.
The NFL may not be ready for the return of Myles Jack to the outside, but I sure as hell am.
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