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Brandon Linder on center: "It's been good so far"


JACKSONVILLE – Brandon Linder won't say he's there yet. Not even close.

This isn't a case of a player remotely believing he has perfected his new position – not when the Jaguars' third-year veteran is just weeks into the process.

But is Linder confident playing center? Does he believe it's his future?


"I'm all for it," Linder said this week. "It's been good so far."

Indeed, what long has been rumor and speculation now appears to be pretty certain …

Linder, who started 15 games at right guard as a rookie in 2014 and three games there before a season-ending labrum injury last season, likely will be the Jaguars' starting center next season.

That seemed very likely when the Jaguars allowed last year's starter, Stefen Wisniewski, to leave in free agency – and when they didn't sign a free agent at the positon. It became a virtual certainty when they didn't select a center in the draft.

Linder, a third-year veteran who is the Jaguars' best interior offensive lineman and perhaps the best overall offensive lineman, has been taking most of the first-team repetitions at the positon during the offseason program. That's expected to continue when Phase 3 of the offseason – three weeks of organized team activities and a three-day mid-June minicamp – begins Monday at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.

Linder said without question the change is significant – both physically and mentally.

"You're kind of looking at it like a quarterback now," he said. "You're starting to hone in on the playbook."

Linder said that is a big part of the change, and that he is trying to learn the offense from the ground up in offseason meetings. He said he feels he has chemistry on and off the field with quarterback Blake Bortles, and that mastering the offense – or at least working toward mastering it – is key.

"Mentally, you have to really be on your stuff," Linder said. "Obviously, I have a lot of work to do, but it's been going well."

Linder said from a physical aspect there are a couple of major differences between center and guard. One is that the guard is on a different plane from center, with a guard having a step or two more between himself and a defensive linemen. A nose tackle often is lined up right over the center, meaning quicker impact with the defensive lineman.

"When you're a guard, you can get off the ball a little bit and have more space to work," Linder said.

Then, of course, there is the matter of getting the ball to the quarterback on every play.

"You're starting the play now, so you've always got to have that down," Linder said with a laugh. "I think that's No. 1. It's got to be pretty fluid. You can't be thinking about that.

"You have your hand on the ball. You're starting the play."

Linder said he feels good about the start he has learning the offense from the center position. Seeing the offense in the same way as Bortles is critical to the position because the center must make line calls at the line of scrimmage while Bortles is making calls from behind center.

"I feel good about it, but I have a lot to grow with that," he said.

The Jaguars' belief in Linder is strong. The belief within the organization is Linder has the potential to be a long-term front-line player – perhaps even elite level – at the most important interior offensive-line position. The idea was to match strength with strength and solidify the center position for the foreseeable future.

"I try not to think that far in advance," Linder said. "I'm excited about it, but I'm still learning it and getting everything down, so I'm not thinking about it that much, but obviously that is my goal."

Linder's not exactly a rookie at the new position. He played it extensively in at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas High School, and practiced there extensively while at the University of Miami. He also played two preseason games at center as a rookie. He also said he always has snapped in practice, including during his time with the Jaguars.

Still, while experience is one thing, he is now facing a new thing. And while he believes he can be successful at the new thing, there is work to be done.

"I've been snapping since Pop Warner," he said. "It's not foreign. Now, I just have to get to the elite level, which is the NFL. It's going to take time to acclimate and get everything right, but at the end of the day, I feel like I should be able to do it. I'm going to work my butt off to do it."

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