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OTTO linebacker still a work in progress for Jaguars' defense

The Jaguars introduced the "OTTO" linebacker as an exciting new position to their base defense before the 2014 season. However, personnel issues filling the role saw it basically phased out as the season progressed.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

As the draft and free agency rapidly approach, more talk of the new "OTTO" linebacker position has surfaced and who will fill the role in 2015. The new position was introduced by Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich last year and garnered excitement going into the season as an innovative addition to Bradley's scheme.

While it sounded great in theory, the position never quite came to fruition in 2014, leaving it with some degree of mystique among fans as to what (and more importantly, who) the OTTO truly is.

What is the OTTO?

In simplistic terms, the OTTO was designed to completely replace the more traditional SAM (or strong side) linebacker in the Jaguars 4-3 base defense as an independent outside linebacker. This backer was tasked with playing on the line of scrimmage in run and flat defense on first and second downs and would also rush the passer on third downs.

The main difference between the OTTO and SAM was supposed to be the renegade nature of the OTTO. That is, the new linebacker would be in a role that was far less connected to the weakside or WILL (Telvin Smith) and middle or MIKE (Paul Posluszny and JT Thomas) backers.

The position was designed to allow for the player to play on both sides of the defense (both weak and strong) along the line of scrimmage in a way that didn't confine him to any specific spot on the defense play-to-play.

As Jaguars linebackers coach Robert Saleh put it, the OTTO, "opens up things to a new level of linebacker play... this player will not be locked into a certain spot."

It is a role that requires a player with great versatility and a wide array of skills to be effective.

But as the team would soon realize, finding that player was easier said than done.

Search for the ideal OTTO: 2014

On March 12th of last year, the Jaguars signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, Dekoda Watson with the intent of deploying him in the new role in 2014. However, a lingering groin injury caused Watson to miss most of the offseason and he never gained traction as the OTTO. Watson was released in November after starting only one game.

With Watson proving to be ineffective almost immediately, the Jaguars hoped to see second year linebacker LaRoy Reynolds take to the OTTO role. While Reynolds would start three games in 2014, it was evident that he was also not quite the ideal man for the job. Reynolds was relegated to special teams play for the remainder of the season.

The Jaguars continued experimenting with linebackers J.T. Thomas (before he took over at MIKE for the injured Paul Posluszny) and Geno Hayes in the OTTO role as 2014 progressed. However, it became evident that the position was significantly scaled back from the grandiose idea that Bradley and Saleh had touted months earlier.

By mid season, the spot was honestly nothing more than the very same SAM linebacker role that was used in 2013 with Russell Allen. The very same role that Bradley had said was "extinct" going forward and replaced by the OTTO.

Geno Hayes OTTO

Geno Hayes lines up in the "OTTO" position, but is really just playing SAM linebacker

Like in 2013 with Allen, Thomas or Hayes came off the field on almost all third downs (except third and short) for a 5th defensive back, rarely taking on any pass rushing duties. There was no unorthodox deployment of the OTTO to the weak side of the formation like was promised. The player was confined to one spot on the field with little flexibility in his role.

In other words, while the coaching staff may not admit it, the OTTO was abandoned and the Jaguars were essentially forced to revive the more stale SAM linebacker position due to their lack of ideal personnel.

So where do they go now?

With Geno Hayes and J.T. Thomas set to become unrestricted free agents, the Jaguars need to address the OTTO position either in the draft or free agency. I have compiled four of the most likely scenarios that GM Dave Caldwell could use to address the position below:

Option A: Big money free agent acquisition

With the Jaguars exorbitant amount of cap space, a big time payout to a player like former Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds could certainly be an option on the open market.

Option B: Discount free agent acquisition

After their struggles with the position in 2014, I tend to think the Jaguars would shy away from trying to address the OTTO spot with a Dekoda Watson-esque cheaper free agent acquisition. However, if they did, signing someone like the Seahawks' O'Brien Schofield or Texans' linebacker Brooks Reed could be an option.

Option C: The third overall pick

If it is on draft day that the Jaguars seek to address the position, Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. seems to be in the perfect mold of what Gus Bradley sees as the OTTO and could step in immediately as an impact player. But the Jaguars have other needs too. Selecting a player like Randy Gregory or Leonard Williams, or even accepting a trade down offer seem like likely scenarios as well.

Option D: Later draft picks

The Jaguars could certainly use a pick other than third overall to address the OTTO slot, but it would be unlikely to yield as immediate an impact as a player like Fowler Jr. or Worilds.

I tend to see the Jaguars offering up a fat contract to a player like Worilds since they have the cap space to do so, allowing them to take the best available player (or trade offer) in the draft. Even giving Worilds a contract worth $7-8 million per year would only put a small dent in the amount the Jaguars have available to spend.

But what do you think? How should the Jaguars address the OTTO position and make it an impact position in 2015 like they originally envisioned?