Outside of the progress of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, the biggest story for the Jaguars this offseason is their offensive line and what will ultimately end up being their starting five. We may not know that until late in the preseason, and at the very earliest until veteran offensive lineman Branden Albert actually reports for organized team activities, but it’s clear that head coach Doug Marrone plans to mix things up quite a bit and move people around.
“Right now, we have multiple people playing. Whether it is Brandon Linder playing guard, [Tyler] Shatley playing center, [Luke] Bowanko can play all three. We can’t pigeon hole ourselves,” Marrone told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the competition on the interior of the offensive line. “It is not like we can sit here and say, ‘We know we are good enough to do this. Let’s just do it and go.’ We are not there yet, nor does anyone feel comfortable, whether it is coaches or players being able to say this is our best five.”
Most, including myself, assume that the offensive line is pretty easy to pick out and that really the only big question is if Branden Albert or Cam Robinson play left guard or left tackle, but it appears Marrone is willing to go well beyond that and move players all over the place and just find out the best five players for the offensive line, regardless of chemistry or how long it takes to figure out prior to Week 1.
“We want to make sure we are in position to put the best guys out there and just let them compete and let’s see who wins it. People come back and will say, ‘What about chemistry and continuity?’,” Marrone continued. “Listen, would you rather have good chemistry and stink or would you rather have less chemistry and be better? We are just trying to be better and see what we can do there. I don’t have a great answer for that, but that is what we are doing with those guys.”
I think Marrone’s point about continuity versus being better is a good one and one that often is argued. Sure, there is something to be said about continuity and the offensive line jelling as a unit, but largely I believe it’s something that is way overstated and overrated by talking heads and fans. Real continuity, that’s often alluded to in that argument, comes over multiple games, not practice reps and the equivalent of a game and half worth of snaps in the preseason.
At this point, the team needs to work on figuring out who the best five offensive lineman are, fit them where they can be the most successful. Marrone indicated the team is already doing that and shuffling players around.
“A.J. [Cann] is playing over on the left side, we will see where it goes. If Branden Albert comes in, I don’t know if Cam [Robinson] or [Josh] Wells battle it out,” Marrone said about moving players around on the line. “I don’t know if A.J. can shoot back out there and play tackle or [Jermey] Parnell can move over. These discussions, we have had every discussion you could possibly have, of trying to do what is best for the players, what is best for the team because somewhere along the line, you have to make some decisions where you can start getting reps for certain things. You can’t have guys taking reps all over the place. It is tough.”
Once the team gets through OTAs and mandatory mini-camp, I would imagine the Jaguars have an idea of what the best five offensive lineman will be and where they will play by the time training camp rolls around. As Marrone said, you can move players all around but there is a point where you’re in too deep and it’s detrimental.
I’m not sure we will see anything as drastic as say Cann kicking out to play right tackle, but I do think it’s possible that someone like Linder moves back to guard or something along those lines.
But again, this is a stark difference from the Jaguars a year ago, where it seemed they were stuck in what they wanted to do and were trying to force the players into those roles, rather than seeing what worked and didn’t work and going from there. As someone often labeled as being overly negative, that’s one thing the Jaguars have done that actually gives me hope for the upcoming season. They already seem to be significantly more willing to self-evaluate and make changes where things clearly weren’t working.
My way too early guess on the starting offensive line, from left tackle to right is: Branden Albert, Cam Robinson, Luke Bowanko, Brandon Linder, and Jermey Parnell.