Previewing 2020: Linebackers

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Jacksonville Jaguars middle linebacker Myles Jack takes the field before the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' linebackers as the '20 season approaches

Position: Linebacker.

Projected starters: Cassius Marsh/K'Lavon Chaisson, Joe Schobert, Myles Jack.

Others: Leon Jacobs, Shaquille Quarterman, Quincy Williams, Joe Giles-Harris, Dakota Allen, Nate Evans.

2020 offseason additions: Schobert (unrestricted free agent, Cleveland Browns), Chaisson (first-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Marsh (unrestricted free agent, Arizona Cardinals), Quarterman (fourth-round selection 2020 NFL Draft).

2020 offseason losses: Preston Brown (free agent), Austin Calitro (waived, Cincinnati), Donald Payne (free agent), Najee Goode (free agent).

Offseason overview: The Jaguars moved boldly throughout the offseason to revamp this area, with Schobert their most high-profile free-agent acquisition of the offseason and Marsh also a key addition. Signing Schobert from Cleveland will enable the Jaguars to move Jack from the middle – where he started the last two seasons – to what could be his more natural position at weak-side linebacker. The Jaguars also invested heavily here in the draft, using two of their first seven selections on Chaisson and Quarterman.

Oehser analysis: As is the case with the defensive front, it's tricky analyzing the Jaguars' offseason at this position because there's still at least some mystery about exactly who will be playing where. Chaisson could play the strong-side linebacker position in base situations when the Jaguars are in a 4-3 look and he also likely will be an edge rusher when the Jaguars are in nickel situations. Bottom line: The Jaguars needed to upgrade this spot athletically and they moved creatively to do just that. Schobert figures to add a consistent element in the middle, and Jack figures to be able to play more freely and in more of a pursuit role on the weakside compared to the mike linebacker role he played the last two seasons. The guess here is Jack could benefit more from the offseason moves than anyone. The perception that he played poorly last season in the middle was overplayed by many, and the reality is many of his high-profile mistakes came trying to make up for youth and inexperience around him. Whatever the reasons behind his struggles last season, he remains an elite talent and a move to the weak side could allow him the freedom to return to his 2017 form when he appeared headed for a multi-Pro Bowl career. Another area to watch: how the Jaguars will use the strong-side position. Jacobs has started there the past two seasons, typically coming off the field in passing situations. Chaisson and Marsh both have three-down ability with the potential to provide a pass-rush presence from the position. The Jaguars needed to get better, more athletic, more versatile and stouter in the middle against the run at this spot. Their offseason creativity may have accomplished that.

Sexton analysis: Schobert's addition facilitates the move of Jack to the weak side. The thought is Jack, who is a swiss-army knife of a linebacker, will be able to unleash his freakish athleticism and make the kind of game-changing plays he made during the Jaguars' playoff run in 2017. If he returns healthy from the knee injury that cost him nearly half of 2019, he'll no doubt appreciate the chance to line up next to a guy who comes from the Paul Posluszny mold. Schobert isn't Poz, but he's smart, tough and as well-prepared a player as you could ask for in the middle of a defense. He'll take on a lot of the work of getting guys lined up and making pre-snap adjustments, which will afford Jack the chance to just focus on what he is supposed to do. Marsh and Jacobs should split reps on the strong side. Jacobs was playing well late last season after a mid-October foot injury threw him off what had been a strong start. Marsh is a classic hybrid who can handle the strong-side role or put his hand on the ground and rush the passer. If the Jaguars are going to play more of a 3-4 scheme – or at least more of a hybrid scheme designed to fool an offense – Marsh is going to play a significant role. Beyond the starting group, there is hope that after making the jump from Murray State to the NFL – and from a career at safety to linebacker – Williams will be able to translate his speed and aggression in a more consistent way. Quarterman is a classic middle linebacker and the fourth-round pick from Oakleaf High School is not only a good football player but a top-shelf, high-character leader who can contribute on the field and on special teams. Don't leave Allen and Giles-Harris out of the mix. Both impressed in limited action last fall.

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