JACKSONVILLE – Walker Little is the Jaguars' starting left guard.
If that was a question in recent days, Head Coach Doug Pederson answered definitively Monday as the Jaguars exited their Week 9 bye and began preparing for one of their most high-profile matchups of the 2023 season.
"Walker Little is the left guard," Pederson said Monday as the AFC South-leading Jaguars (6-2) prepared to play the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers (5-3) at EverBank Stadium Sunday at 1 pm.
On a day in which Pederson also addressed multiple injuries, he said Little will start at left guard beside left tackle Cam Robinson. The Jaguars traded with the Minnesota Vikings for veteran guard Ezra Cleveland last Thursday.
Little, a second-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, started the first four games of the season at left tackle with Robinson out because of an NFL suspension. Little started at left guard next to Robinson in a Week 5 victory over Buffalo before sustaining a first-quarter knee injury.
Little missed the next two games, then played as a backup in a Week 8 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Veteran Tyler Shatley started at left guard the past three games.
"I want to be as clear as I can: Walker's the left guard," Pederson said. "That has been communicated to everybody. Cam's the left tackle. That's our plan and that has never changed."
Added Pederson, "Walker's earned that spot. His ability to move inside, his versatility that way, has been a plus for him and been a plus for our offensive line. That short time that he and Cam were together in that Buffalo game, they well played well together. This was our plan all along when Cam came back. Getting these guys working together this week will be good."
The Jaguars reportedly traded a sixth-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft to the Vikings for Cleveland, who started 40 consecutive games from the start of the 2021 season until missing the past two games with a foot injury.
"Anytime that you can add depth, you can add value, you can add a talent like Ezra to the offensive line –really at any position – it's something that [General Manager] Trent [Baalke] and I and the guys looked at hard," Pederson said. "Ezra is somebody who can come in and really provide the necessary backup guard. He's very capable, smart and talented left guard.
"He's just a good value for us and really solidifies an offensive line that is already pretty good."
Pederson said Cleveland, a second-round selection by the Vikings from Boise State in the 2020 NFL Draft, also could figure into the Jaguars' future plan. Cleveland is in the final year of his rookie contract and will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2023 season.
"You have to look at that," Pederson said. "You have to look at long term as well, and obviously the age of our offensive linemen. [Ninth-year veteran right guard] Brandon Scherff, as great as he's been playing, he's not getting younger. Shatley's not getting younger. You have to have guys that are very capable that are going to be on your roster. You definitely have to look at long term in situations like this.
"The player himself, Ezra, knows he's in basically a contract year as well. He's willing to come to Jacksonville and be a backup for now. Understanding there are no guarantees in this business, it definitely could turn into a long-term situation where he could definitely compete and be in a position to help us moving forward."
NOTABLE - INJURY UPDATE
- Wide receiver Zay Jones – out the last three games with a knee injury – is day-to-day this week, Pederson said. He said all other players dealing with injuries before the bye – including Little, safety Andre Cisco (hamstring) and cornerback Tyson Campbell (hamstring) – are expected to play against the 49ers. "All of them except Zay are doing really well and should be okay for this week," Pederson said. "We'll see how the week progresses. [Jones]got a little workout in [Monday]. He's feeling a little bit better. We'll monitor him day by day, but he's getting better." Asked if Jones could be placed on injured reserve, Pederson said: "That's something we'll evaluate if it looks like it's any further or longer than what it already is."