One of the biggest question marks on the Jacksonville Jaguars vaunted defense heading into 2018 is the strong-side linebacker position. After the retirement of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, Myles Jack is now expected to man the MIKE position, while the strong-side linebacker spot is up for grabs. Second-year player Blair Brown is considered the favorite to land the starting gig there at SAM.
Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser has been paying attention to Brown during OTAs, and likes what he sees so far. He says that Brown is “progressing nicely,” and that said progress is happening quickly.
Throughout the piece, you can tell that Brown is becoming more and more comfortable with the position and his new role with the team.
“Today, it felt really normal — I felt great today; I just have to keep on building off what I did today,” Brown told Oehser after last Friday’s OTA work out. “I feel it coming along for sure.”
Brown appeared in 14 games, but most of his work came on special teams, as he played 224 snaps there, and only 50 defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders. And as Oehser notes in his article, the majority of Brown’s playing time came at the weak-side position, filling in for Telvin Smith from time to time.
The SAM spot is a new position for Brown, and though he is a frontrunner for the starting role, he still has a lot to learn and a lot of work to do.
“It was tough, moving from WILL to SAM” Brown told Oehser. “My keys are different. What I’m looking at is totally different. It’s a big transition.
“I’ve played some Sam, but it’s still new to me. I learned the base calls for that last year just to be in there, but this year I really have to get everything locked down and know what I’m doing out there on the field.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash was also quoted in the piece, saying that the “biggest thing” for Brown is just that he has to be “consistent.” Wash also noted that it’s all new and challenging for Brown with the position change, and that the linebacker is getting better every day.
As I mentioned above, Jack is moving into the middle linebacker role full-time in 2017, after playing the position in nickel packages in 2017. Jack spent the remainder of his time at the SAM spot, so Brown is able to pick Jack’s brain about how to play the position, and has leaned on him throughout OTAs.
While Brown is still the favorite to take over the strong-side, Donald Payne has emerged as a player who is standing out at OTAs. Payne has received first-team reps at the middle linebacker spot while Jack has been a limited participant. Perhaps the converted defensive back could make a play toward the starting SAM spot if he continues to play at a high level in training camp.
Additionally, seventh-round draft pick Leon Jacobs was selected to push Brown at SAM, and play special teams. The ultra-athletic linebacker is not expected to start, as he has been working wth the third-team at OTAs, but you never know who may emerge during the preseason.
With all of this in mind, it appears that the job is Brown’s to lose, and according to Oehser who is around the team constantly, Brown is seemingly ready for the challenge.