JACKSONVILLE – Phil Rauscher has a good feeling about the Jaguars' 2023 offensive line.
As for how exactly the unit will look …
Well, neither Rauscher – the Jaguars' offensive line coach – nor anyone around the offense knows much about "exacts" when it comes to a position group that has the potential to be one of the team's best this season.
"It's just finding that mix and how it plays out," Rauscher said.
Rauscher, speaking shortly before the end of the Jaguars' 2023 offseason program, echoed the thoughts of Head Coach Doug Pederson – that despite 2019-2022 starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs in March, and despite starting left tackle Cam Robinson's potential season-opening suspension, confidence is high on the offensive line.
"I think we have a really good group," Rauscher said, with Pederson adding: "We're very confident in where that group can go."
The reason: The Jaguars' offensive line is a talented, deep group – one bolstered by the addition of 2023 first-round draft selection Anton Harrison and one that returns five players in addition to Robinson who started and played key roles in 2022.
- Left tackle Walker Little (five 2022 starts, including postseason)
- Center/guard Tyler Shatley (14 total '22 starts at left guard)
- Five-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff (19 total '22 starts)
- Second-year veteran center Luke Fortner (19 total '22 starts)
- Left guard Ben Bartch (five '22 starts before a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament)
"I think if you asked them, they would tell you that they're the tightest group on the team," Rauscher said. "They take a lot of pride in that."
The Jaguars worked Harrison at right tackle throughout 2023 organized team activities and minicamp, and he will likely open training camp there. With Robinson reportedly likely to open the season suspended for performance-enhancing substances, Little – who started the final three regular-season and two postseason games in 2022 at left tackle after Robinson sustained a season-ending knee injury – practiced during the offseason at both guard and tackle.
Bartch is expected to return to full participation sometime during '23 training camp.
"I wouldn't say I feel like there's uncertainty there," Rauscher said. "There's nothing that we don't know about each other, kind of what our limitations are and what we excel at. It's just the mix of finding the right combination, the right five guys and where that is. That might be different now [late in the offseason program] than it is when training camp starts in comparison to what the first game ends up being against [the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season opener].
"There are parts of the puzzle that we feel really good about. Change is inevitable on the offensive line, but these guys together as a unit cohesively, they understand what it takes to get that job done."
Fortner drew praise from coaches throughout the offseason program, and has added significant size and strength, with Scherff returning to full health after finishing the '23 season significantly limited with an abdomen injury. While they are the lone veteran offensive linemen seemingly locked into their positions entering '23 camp, Pederson said "The versatility of the guys in the room is really big for us."
"We have a lot of guys that can play multiple spots," Pederson said. "So whoever's available, however everything plays out moving into it, I think we can put together a pretty good combination and then be flexible in that combination.
"Obviously everybody having familiarity in the system, familiarity with one another, we expect everybody to take that next step in terms of their progression and getting better."
Said Rauscher, "The way we like to play is being tough, strong and athletic. There are tackles and yes, there are guards, but the interchangeability of it is important to us."
- Offensive coordinator Press Taylor on Little and the offensive line: "[Little] is a guy that can do a lot of things. He has played both tackle spots. He has played left guard since he has been here. That group [the offensive line] is so close. If you ever got the chance to sit in an offensive line room, it's a great place to be. It's a different place to be, but those guys get along so well that they mesh well together and they all understand the big picture of what we're trying to do. We feel like those guys are pretty interchangeable."
💪 Take a look back at some of the best moments from the Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Line for the 2022 Season.