The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive line has had its fair share of up-and-down games. Heading into Sunday, they’ll face their toughest challenge of the season against the Indianapolis Colts which features a fierce left guard in second-year player Quenton Nelson. Selected sixth overall in the 2018 NFL draft, Nelson has already asserted his dominance in the league garnering first-team All Pro honors during his rookie season.
Jaguars’ defensive lineman Calais Campbell knows he’s in for a long game against Nelson on Sunday. “He’s a great talent,” Campbell told Big Cat Country shortly after practice on Wednesday. “Physical in the run game, gets to the second level really well — he plays whistle to whistle. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to bury you into the ground. If that whistle hasn’t blown yet, the plays not over, he’s going 100 miles-per-hour which you have to respect.”
Quenton Nelson just destroyed Barry Church. Goodness. pic.twitter.com/Cm5LoGdxKV— patrick (@PatDStat) November 11, 2018
According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson has allowed one hurry through nine games this season while holding the third-best grade of any offensive lineman in the NFL with a grade of 89.4. For reference, the highest graded Jaguars’ offensive lineman is Cedric Ogbuehi with an overall grade of 66.1.
Simply put, Nelson is elite. The Jaguars are currently tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks with 30 total in nine games. While the stats are respectable, the Jaguars accumulated 17 sacks between two games this season, averaging only 1.8 sacks-per-game in their remaining seven games. The inconsistency along the defensive line will not bode well against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone spoke highly of Nelson during his Wednesday morning press conference this week. “Probably. I’ve been fortunate,” Marrone said when asked if Nelson is one of the better guards he’s seen in the NFL. “I’ve been around. When I was in New Orleans, I felt like I had the two best guards in the league with Jahri [Evans] and Carl Nicks. Very fortune to coach those guys. I think Quenton’s one of the best guards that I’ve seen throughout my whole time in the NFL. He’s an excellent football player.”
High praise from a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach. Marrone coached two of the best guards the NFL has seen in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks during his time with the Saints. Marrone says Nelson has it all. Strength, speed, finish-ability, leverage, technique. Almost as perfect of a player one can ask for at the guard position.
“I think if someone’s going to go draft a guard, and you’re a coach, and you want to go into management, you say, ’Hey, get me a guy like [Quenton].’”
Nelson was coached by former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand who is now in the NFL as the Chicago Bears head coach.
“He’s a master at what he does.”
Calling any football play a ‘master’ is seemingly unprecedented, but if there is any player which deserves such praise it is Nelson and Jaguars’ defensive coordinator Todd Wash agrees with Marrone’s assessment, saying Nelson is “as good as there is in football”.
“He does a nice job in pass protection; he can grade you out at the point of attack and he’s really good at pulling,” Wash said on Thursday during his weekly press conference. “You see that a lot in their gap schemes and stuff that they do. He’s one of the elite guards in the game of football right now.”
Campbell will go against Nelson an awful lot on Sunday, however defensive tackle Taven Bryan will need to continue his surge as the team’s starting three-technique. Bryan has started for the past several weeks as Marcell Dareus was placed on injured/reserve with a core-muscle injury on October 25th.
Marrone says he likes the progress Bryan has made with his repetition-increase and understands that game day reps may be what’s best for the second-year player.
“I’m sure a lot of us have got through that in whatever sports that we’ve played,” Marrone said. “And I think what we’re seeing from Taven is that he’s playing more and you’re seeing the progress. Now, is it not as fast as what maybe he wants, everybody wants? Probably. But it’s going in the right direction.”
The right direction is all anyone can ask for at the moment. This weekend, the test will come for Bryan, Campbell, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen along with the rest of the team’s defensive line as they look to separate themselves from the pack and lead the team through the ranks of the AFC South.