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On to '21: Linebackers


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' linebackers in this position-by-position look at the '21 offseason

Position: Linebackers.

Position coach: Charlie Strong (assistant head coach/inside linebackers), Zach Orr (outside linebackers).

2020 starters: WLB Myles Jack (14), MLB Joe Schobert (16), SLB Leon Jacobs (2), SLB Kamalei Correa (6), SLB Joe Giles-Harris (3), WLB Dakota Allen (2), SLB Curtis Marsh Sr. (1).

Others: Quincy Williams, Shaquille Quarterman, Chapelle Russell, Nate Evans.

Edge defenders: Josh Allen, K'Lavon Chaisson, Aaron Lynch.

2020 at a glance: The Jaguars' defense as a unit struggled throughout much of 2021, but the linebackers had their share of standout performances – and the unit got consistent-to-good play from its two primary starters. Jack, after starting in the middle for three seasons, moved to what he and the team believed was his natural position of weakside linebacker; the result was an All-Pro-level season and the best of Jack's five NFL seasons. He registered 118 tackles, 72 for loss, and also had an interception, one forced fumble and a sack. Schobert, whose 2020 offseason signing as an unrestricted free agent allowed Jack to move to the weak side, was the only player on the Jaguars' defense to start all 16 games; he registered 141 tackles, six for loss – and also had three interceptions, two forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits. Jacobs sustained a season-ending knee injury in a Week 3 loss to Miami, and the Jaguars never established a consistent starter at the position after that.

Offseason storyline: Like so much about the Jaguars' front seven defensively, this offseason storyline depends largely on the direction of the defense under new coordinator Joe Cullen. Both Cullen and Strong emphasized that personnel will dictate the Jaguars' new direction, with Cullen having been part of a 3-4 scheme while defensive line coach with the Baltimore Ravens the past five seasons. If the Jaguars move to a 3-4, then players such as Josh Allen and Chaisson likely will become part of the linebacker corps as standup pass rushers and Jack and Schobert likely become inside-type players.

Free agents as of March 17: Correa, Dakota Allen.

Bucky Brooks' top three free agent linebackers: Jayon Brown, Tennessee Titans; Kyle Van Noy, Miami Dolphins; K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks.

Bucky Brooks' top three linebacker prospects: Micah Parsons, Penn State; Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame; Nick Bolton, Missouri.

Oehser analysis: Early indications are that the Jaguars' defense will look substantially different in 2021 – and that is very much true of the linebacker position. With Strong coaching inside linebackers and Orr coaching outside linebackers – and with Cullen having a 3-4 background with the Ravens – if the Jaguars aren't a pure 3-4, they seem likely to incorporate many elements of the scheme into the defense. Josh Allen and Chaisson seem likely to flourish in that scheme as prototypical 3-4 outside linebackers and edge rushers. A couple of intriguing issues regarding the linebacker corps: One is the development of Allen and Chaisson. Allen showed in 2019 that he is capable of being a game-changing, elite edge defender; the Jaguars need him back at that level because he needs to be an impact core player. Chaisson has the athleticism and speed to be a big-time NFL edge player; he must make the jump that many second-year players take. As intriguing: Jack and Schobert. Jack had his best season NFL season in 2020 while playing weakside linebacker. Can the Jaguars find a role that takes equal advantage of his elite playmaking ability? Can he adjust and be a closer-to-the-ball linebacker if asked to do that in a 3-4-oriented scheme? Can Schobert adjust similarly? As the Jaguars self-scout and determine their scheme, these are questions that could be key.

Brooks' analysis: It is hard to find a better combination of linebackers than Jack and Schobert. The tackling machines not only display outstanding instincts, awareness and pursuit quickness, but they are hard hitters with nasty dispositions. Although the stat sheet didn't accurately reflect their individual and collective impact, the Jaguars' linebacker tandem ranks among the best in the league in skill. In an aggressive defensive scheme that should showcase their talents as playmakers, the duo should finally get the recognition that they deserve. That said, the Jaguars could add another weapon to the lineup to upgrade the base defense. Whether it is a pass-rushing linebacker or a playmaking, sideline-to-sideline chaser, the addition of another difference-maker will only help the Jaguars close the gap on their division rivals.

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