The Jacksonville Jaguars need a third linebacker. Telvin Smith and Myles Jack will obviously take the majority of snaps — but that strongside linebacker position is up for grabs. Who’s going to win the job? Blair Brown? Leon Jacobs? Lerentee McCray?
What about a converted defensive back who spent his entire rookie season trying to learn how to play linebacker in the NFL.
Donald Payne is coming into his second season this year and so far he’s been getting first team reps with the defense.
“Working with the [first team] is definitely a blessing being out there, so I’m just trying to maximize every opportunity that I get,” Payne said to Mike Kaye of First Coast News. “I’ve been getting a lot of reps out there, so I’m just trying to improve every day ... just show the coaches I can learn.”
Head coach Doug Marrone likes what he sees and has a lot to say about it.
“He came into us as a linebacker. I know he was converted prior to that. I think last year we saw someone that had really good speed [and] was able to contribute on special teams. We really did not know from the standpoint of a full training camp or things of that nature or playing the position, making the calls, doing all of that from a communication standpoint. I think with Myles [Jack] on the side, he has gotten in there, and he has done a nice job. You can see he has picked up the communication. He has picked up the system well. Now, it is just a matter of when we go to training camp, can he get out there and actually make the plays? You simulate as a coach during this time of year … You see a player out there and you are like, ‘Oh, he made that play. Can he make that play when it counts or when it is live?’ I think that Donald has done a good job of putting himself in that position. I think he has done a good job. The thing that is probably the most impressive is that sometimes when guys have this opportunity, you see another level of their game go down. For Donald’s case, special teams. You will see him putting a lot of time into playing linebacker and the special teams going down — we have not seen that. That is a good sign in a player. He has been able to keep both of those things going at a pretty high level.”
Payne was originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens, who moved him from defensive back to middle linebacker. He spent all offseason learning how to play linebacker.
But Payne was released after the preseason and Jacksonville signed him quickly, adding him to roster for Week 1. He finished with a team-high 13 tackles on special teams.