The Jacksonville Jaguars are less than four weeks away from their season opener and while most every other position group is settled on who’s playing where, linebacker is still being tinkered with — specifically the middle and strong-side linebackers.
During an odd Sunday practice that saw Blake Bortles benched, Chad Henne taking snaps with the starters, and Paul Posluszny getting a pick-six, we also saw Myles Jack moved from the middle linebacker position that the coaching staff handed to him back to the strong-side where he played part-time his rookie season last year.
And now on Monday, head coach Doug Marrone said that Posluszny would be moving back to middle linebacker for Thursday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and that Myles would be moving back to the outside SAM position.
“For this game ... Myles is playing the SAM,” Marrone said after Monday’s practice. “He’s played the middle. He came off his best game at middle. Then we put [Posluszny] there, who was playing SAM. We also moved Blair Brown over to play some SAM. He can play inside. We also have Lerentee McCray playing some SAM, so we’re trying to figure out, just so you know, how things shake out. What’s the best starters? What’s the best way to go into the season? Who can back who up? Really, that’s what’s going on.”
Marrone went on to say that Myles would be a three-down backer “no matter where he plays” and that he’d still be getting the calls in from the sideline.
“Myles is the MIKE,” Marrone said. “Myles has the green dot. Myles calls the defense.”
This all prompts me to wonder...
What the heck are the Jaguars doing at linebacker?
Myles has been inconsistent at middle linebacker throughout OTAs and training camp, but not in the physical aspect. He’s one of the best athletes on that defense. His only miscues in practices and games have seemingly been mental. And it’s not just his ability to read and react to plays either, but rather his ability to make pre-snap reads and communicate to the rest of the defense during and between plays on adjustments that need to be made.
Posluszny’s communication ability was arguably his biggest asset, and while it will still be there in some capacity, Jack will need to take that role over if he’s got the green dot.
“I think from OTA 1 to OTA 10, he’s made great strides from a communications standpoint, in recognition, pre and post-snap communication,” new Jaguars linebacker coach Mark Collins told Mike Kaye of First Coast News when asked about Jack’s progression in June. “But he’s still got a long way to go. He needs a lot of work but he’s a willing participant, he wants to do well, but he’s still a young guy that needs a lot of work. He’ll learn from the burn a little bit.”
This is the confusing bit — Myles is still learning a new position, but everything the coaches have pointed to in how he can get better can only be learned with more reps and more live experience. Which is precisely what the preseason is for. Why are the Jaguars taking a valuable week away from Myles?
Well, there are a couple of possibilities:
First, Myles isn’t as good in the middle as Posluszny and putting everyone back in their positions from last year is the easiest for everyone. However, if that were the case then how is Myles going to stay a three-down backer? The strong-side linebacker traditionally comes off the field when a third receiver shows up on offense. Are the Jaguars planning on taking Posluszny off the field in nickel packages? Will it be Telvin Smith alongside Myles on third downs?
Another possibility is that Posluszny is struggling at strong-side. But if that were the case and you were going to prioritize Posluszny, why did you hand the job to Myles in the first place? Why not let this play out and allow the players to slot themselves into their best positions?
Whatever the Jaguars are asking of their linebackers, they have three more preseason games to get an answer.