A closer look: Offensive line

Jacksonville Jaguars guard A.J. Cann (60) and center Brandon Linder (65) against the Kansas City Chiefs in an NFL game Sunday, October 7, 2018 in Kansas City, Mo. (Rick Wilson via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars guard A.J. Cann (60) and center Brandon Linder (65) against the Kansas City Chiefs in an NFL game Sunday, October 7, 2018 in Kansas City, Mo. (Rick Wilson via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was around the Jaguars, with an eye on the Jaguars’ offensive line as 2019 free agency moved forward

FOCUS ON THE LINE

A feeling among some observers is the Jaguars’ need to overhaul the offensive line.

The reality is that the changes to the starting line this offseason will be more of a tweak, with the overhaul limited to backups.

That became clear last week when the team re-signed veteran right guard A.J. Cann, and Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin shortly after the move said injuries were the primary reason a line that performed well in 2017 struggled at times last season.

“If we get our guys back healthy and can add a little bit here and there … I was happy and confident with our offensive line last year until it started to disappear,” Coughlin said Thursday, shortly after the Jaguars signed quarterback Nick Foles as an unrestricted free agent.

Cann’s re-signing means four of five Week 1 offensive line starters from last season will return: Cann, left tackle Cam Robinson, center Brandon Linder and right guard Andrew Norwell.

As Coughlin mentioned, injuries were a major factor for the line last season. Not only did Robinson miss the final 13 games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Norwell missed the final five games with an ankle injury and Linder missed the final seven games with a knee injury.

The injuries to Norwell and Linder weren’t believed serious enough to linger deep into the offseason. And while General Manager David Caldwell declined to discuss the specifics of Robinson’s return, the timing of the injury was such that a return by Week 1 is reasonable.

The one starting position that will change: right tackle, where Jermey Parnell – the starter from 2015-2018 – was released five days before the start of free agency.

Will Richardson, a fourth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft selected to play right tackle, sustained an early-season knee injury that kept him out his entire rookie season.

“We have to get the right tackle resolved and that’s where Will Richardson comes into play,” Caldwell said. “We drafted him in the fourth round and we hope he’s coming back healthy. He’s training and working out every day and doing everything you need to do.”

The Jaguars last week also signed right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi as an unrestricted free agent from Cincinnati; he was a first-round selection by the Bengals in the 2015 NFL Draft, but he played just two games last season as a backup. The position also could be an option with the Jaguars’ No. 7 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

THE MAJOR CHANGES COULD BE BEHIND THE STARTERS

Whereas the starting offensive line seems likely to undergo just one change, the situation among the reserves is different. The Jaguars had seven linemen who started at least one game last season become free agents: tackle Josh Wells, center/guard Tyler Shatley, guard Patrick Omameh, tackle Ereck Flowers, guard Chris Reed, guard/tackle Josh Walker and tackle Corey Robinson. Flowers, the No. 9 overall selection by the New York Giants in 2015, signed with Washington this week. Perhaps the most notable of the others were Wells and Shatley. Wells played well in place of Cam Robinson last season but struggled to stay healthy in five Jaguars seasons. Shatley started 15 of 62 games played in five Jaguars seasons. While the team could re-sign one or two of last season’s reserves, it’s more likely the offensive-line depth will have a dramatically new look in 2019.

A CANN FAN

Cann, a third-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2016 NFL Draft, officially was briefly an unrestricted free agent for a few hours Wednesday. But the team signed him shortly after the start of free agency – and a big reason was new offensive line coach George Warhop. “I obviously value his opinion,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said of Warhop, a 23-year NFL offensive line coach who replaced Pat Flaherty in the position in January. “When he evaluated the line and we got to A.J., he said, ‘Look, I really think this guy can be really productive and a really good football player. This is what I see his strengths are. This is what the weaknesses are. I really want to work with him. I think I can take this guy to where he wants to go.’ To me, that’s important. You don’t want to be in this role of, ‘Hey, you have to coach this player and you really don’t like him.’ Those things are tough to overcome. Those are the challenges in the NFL. But Hop came in and said, ‘I want to work with this guy. I really want to do it.’’’

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