Thursday update: Payne ready for "big task" at middle linebacker

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Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Donald Payne (54) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFL game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson/Jacksonville Jaguars)

JACKSONVILLE – He hoped for this, but no way did he expect it.

The last part makes sense because, as Jaguars middle linebacker Donald Payne said Thursday, six weeks ago he was "sitting on my couch and didn't have a job."

How could he have known he would soon be starting in the NFL?

"To be at this point, a starting middle linebacker? It's a big task, but I'm ready for it," Payne said Thursday as the Jaguars (4-8) prepared to play the Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 4:05 p.m.

That task is now a semi-permanent one.

With the Jaguars placing the durable Myles Jack on injured reserve with a knee injury Thursday, Payne likely will start at middle linebacker – if healthy – for the rest of the regular season. Payne made his first NFL start in place of Jack in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday, leading the team in tackles with 13.

"I thought Donald went out last week and played well," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said Thursday. "We knew this was a possibility. We're very excited about how Donald played last week. Hopefully, he can add to it this week."

The Jaguars had allowed 200 yards or more rushing in the last three games before Payne entered the lineup. The Jaguars held the Buccaneers to 74 yards rushing, though the Buccaneers' first touchdown came on a 15-yard run by running back Peyton Barber.

Payne played all but one snap in the game, also wearing the "green-dot" helmet. That meant he handled the responsibility of hearing defensive signals from the coaching staff via a helmet device then passing on the assignments to the defense before the snap.

"I thought Donald did a nice job," Wash said. "He's been taking reps with the second unit and communicating. Obviously, it was the first time he's ever done it in a game. He got us in the right checks. The more and more he plays, the more and more we can put on his plate.

"It's a challenge for Donald, obviously, because he hasn't done it, but we're very encouraged by what we've seen last week out of Donald."

Payne, who played collegiately at Stetson University, originally signed with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent shortly after the 2017 NFL Draft. The Jaguars claimed him off waivers before the 2017 regular season, and he spent two seasons with the Jaguars before he was waived this past May.

He spent time with Baltimore again in August and September but was out of football from his September 10 release until the Jaguars signed him October 22. While Payne had played extensively on special teams in two seasons with the Jaguars, Jack's durability – he didn't miss a defensive snap last season – limited Payne to 10 defensive snaps before last Sunday.

"I didn't think it was going to happen two months ago; I wasn't on a team," Payne said. "To be in this position is really a blessing. I have to thank God every day for putting me in this situation. Now, it's my job to take advantage of it."

Also around the Jaguars Thursday:

*Safety Ronnie Harrison missed a second consecutive practice with a concussion and tight end Seth DeValve missed a second consecutive practice with an oblique injury. Harrison missed the loss to the Buccaneers and DeValve has missed three consecutive games. Wide receiver Dede Westbrook missed practiced for personal reasons for a second consecutive day. Wide receivers DJ Chark Jr. (back) and wide receiver Chris Conley (ankle) worked limited for a second consecutive day, as did cornerbacks Tre Herndon (shoulder) and D.J. Hayden (neck). Payne (ankle) and cornerback A.J. Bouye (calf) worked full after being limited Wednesday. Defensive end Calais Campbell (back) and center Brandon Linder (knee) worked limited after missing practice Wednesday. …

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