Ingram and Durant: Proven Performer or Up-and-coming Upslide
The Jaguars are a mere month away from opening training camp. Unlike years past, this year the most interesting battles will be with the defense. Whether its the effects of introducing Drayton Florence into the secondary or replacing Marcus Stroud at defensive tackle, all educated eyes should be watching the defense. While the more obvious position fights will be with the rookies and free-agent signings, the most interesting battle is for the left outside linebacker position.
Clint Ingram and Justin Durant had excellent seasons in 2007. Both would see extensive time, though not entirely according to plan. Durant was largely expected to be a situational backup player as he worked his way through his rookie year, but with the injury to Mike Peterson, he was quickly put as a starter on the right-side.
Durant, despite playing well, was playing out of position. The Jaguars see Justin as the long-term starter at LOLB. Ingram is good, don't get me wrong, but Durant is a faster, more instinctive, pure player than Ingram. If it's not this season, it will be next year.
But there I go again, tossing my opinion into the introduction. Honestly, this is a problem of riches, putting either player as the starter means that a fantastic linebacker is on the field. Ingram and Durant bring something to the table that Jack Del Rio and Marc Duffner love, that's the ability to play wherever and whenever they're asked. While both might be unknowns to the rest of the world, the Jaguars know they've got two talented players in a wide-open competition. As usual, we'll do this in two parts. Collin will take Mr. Ingram, I'll cover Durant, and you, the reader, will decide. For the Jaguars, there is no loser. Durant gives us one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL, Ingram a solid-hitting hard-nosed, insert cliche here outside linebacker. Both are in the "Jack Del Rio" style.
On to the breakdown
Clint Ingram: The Experience Candidate
Clint Ingram was selected with the 80th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft in a trade with the Cowboys that cost us our 92nd and 125th picks that year. Clint was the last linebacker on the board whom the Jaguars felt could start his first year and the Jags moved aggressively to grab him. He began starting for the Sooners mid-way through his junior year, and by the end of his senior year he was known as an instinctive hitter with exceptional pass defense capabilities.
Ingram's nickname in the locker-room is "Country", which he was given for both his southern-drawl and laid-back personality. Clint was raised in Texas and claims his work ethic comes from laboring on his Grandparents farm during his youth; he was mowing yards at age six. Clint has always been dedicated to whatever he's been involved with. He hasn't caused any off the field problems and had this to say about the sudden change of becoming a NFL player.
"I'll stay grounded," he said. "I have a good foundation; good morals."
Football, however, is won on the field. The camp battle between Clint Ingram and Justin Durant is going to be the most interesting defensive battle of the summer. So far, Clint's been hampered by an ankle injury which should be healed by the beginning of training camp.
Ingram is known for being a studious LB who is both aggressive and instinctive. He'll be entering his third season and isn't going to give up his starting role to Durant without a fight. Ingram's advantage in experience isn't as pronounced as it was last year when Durant was a rookie. Ingram has a clear advantage over Durant in pass defense, while it seems that Durant is a marginally better pass rusher due to a slight edge in quickness. Both are excellent tacklers. Clint has been known for making interceptions and pass defenses since his college days, and that's an invaluable trait for a defensemen. Here's what Mark Duffner had to say about Clint coming out of college.
"Real good movement skills, suddenness, burst. You could see the explosiveness. He was probably as good a hitter as I saw on film," linebackers coach Mark Duffner said of Ingram.
There's no question that Ingram has got some catching up to do. Durant has established himself well during the time Ingram's ankle has kept him sidelined. However, the Jaguars have an entirely new playbook to learn, so there is just as much studying to be done off the field as there is play to be done on it. Ingram is known to be a student of the game and his dedication to the sport has hastened his development.
In 2006, Clint started 11 of 14 games he played in and recorded 117 tackles, second-most on the team. He was shoved into the starting role full time when Mike Peterson was injured and the team hardly missed a beat. He showed he was able to handle the speed of the NFL game and even snagged an interception from Eli Manning that year. He came out of college an accomplished pass defender and has done nothing but improve in that regard.
The Jaguars are lucky to have 4 potential starters at linebacker and it is arguably our strongest position. Durant is clearly going to have to start at some point. He's amazing and his skill will likely prevent Mike Peterson from getting an extension after this season. However, I believe Clint is going to retain his starting role this year because he'll come to camp with a better grasp of the defense than will Durant. If Durant claims the starting job, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ingram come in with the nickel defense at the very least, as his edge in pass defense is unquestioned.
Justin Durant: The Change Candidate
“I played my career with a little chip, a little edge, and I plan to carry that chip into the N.F.L.,”
These are the words of Justin Durant on what he would bring to the NFL. Justin, as we know came from the Division 1-AA (Non-Bowl Subdivision) school of Hampton University. Hampton, for those of you without a close familiarity to Virginia schools, is on the Eastern seaboard, and somehow sent more players to the combine in 2007 than USC.
Justin Durant, in theory, will eventually be the Jaguars starting middle linebacker. Mike Peterson is pushing his middle thirties, is a free-agent next season, and despite the relative minorness of the injuries, has missed significant time in the last several seasons. This, of course, is irrelevent to our current discussion. It would take a serious change of events for Durant to overtake Mike Peterson this year, though it's not completey impossible.
No, the Jaguars have a problem of having four starting linebackers and for 2008, the odd man out is between Ingram and Durant. Ingram's strength is that he's more experienced and is an absolute known quantity at linebacker. This is without a doubt a huge advantage over Durant, if the Jagaurs are going to be more conservitive on defense.
But that's not what I see happening. Clint Ingram gives us a solid linebacker. Justin Durant is by far the fastest player of the four, and with the expected solidness of Peterson and Daryl Smith, he is also the best player for an attacking style of linebacker play. When Blitzes are called, more often than naught Gregg Williams uses a combination of linebackers (obviously). If Durant is used in blitz-packages, his value is still strong, but for the attack style defense that we assume Williams will use, keeping Durant on the field as often as possible increases his flexiblity.
Durant may be a liablity in coverage sometimes, but he has the speed and increasing experience to compensate for errors. He can "lay the wood" as a hitter and his speed alows for a margin of error in his aggressive style of play. Collin makes a very good point that having Gregg Williams means that both linebackers are learning a new system, if it were Mike Smith, I'd say leave Ingram in and let Durant ease his way in. But with a clean slate so to speak, Durant brings speed and physicality to the table that Ingram lacks.
These are the sort of problems that you want a team to have. There is no real "loser" other in terms of playing time. I believe strongly that the injury to Clint Ingram that has sidelined him so far from practicing with the first team will give Durant the edge on opening day. His speed is what puts him over the top. It gives him the tools required to make up for any defencies in his abilty to understand the scheme.
We Debate, You Decide!
Pick who you think will start on opening day and explain why in the commments!