Marred with various injuries throughout the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) have been forced to get creative on defense, and particularly at linebacker. Knee injuries to Jaguars linebackers Myles Jack and Najee Goode (reserve/injured) have forced the Jaguars to dig deep within their depth chart to find replacements.
Against the Tennessee Titans (6-5), Jaguars rookie linebacker Quincy Williams started in place of Goode who was benched in favor of the rookie. At some point in the game, however, Goode injured his knee landing him on the team’s reserve/injured list on Tuesday. Williams will once again start for the Jaguars on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7).
With Goode already out, and Jack missing his second-straight day of practice on Thursday (expected injured report due to Thanksgiving), the team will likely turn to a familiar, but inexperienced face at middle linebacker in former Stetson safety Donald Payne.
Payne, 25, originally an undrafted free agent in 2017 was claimed by the Jaguars after a short stint with the Baltimore Ravens. After a couple of seasons in black and teal, the Jaguars waived Payne in May of this year before re-signing the former Stetson safety on October 22nd. Now, the third-year player will likely earn the first start of his career on Sunday if Jack is forced to miss his first career game.
“I’m just looking forward on the challenge — we got another workday on Friday, another walkthrough on Saturday, so I got a lot of time to put in, a lot of work to put in [and] we ready to go out there against the Bucs on Sunday,” Payne told reporters in the locker room on Tuesday when asked about the upcoming challenge for the linebacker role on Sunday.
Jack has not practiced in the last couple of days for the Jaguars, however, according to Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash, he is making great progress in rehabbing his knee injury.
“He’s feeling better and better each day,” Wash said on Tuesday. “At least we still have a couple, three, four days before the game that hopefully he can get healthy and we can get him on the grass.”
Nevertheless, Payne is mentally preparing to play extensive repetitions on Sunday whether in a starting role or otherwise. A surprise to him, Payne was inserted into the game against the Titans last Sunday after Jack and Goode went down, a rare occurrence in the NFL, Payne says. Although he was comfortable playing, he received no reps on defense in practice the week leading up to their matchup in week 12, according to Payne.
“I think I was pretty comfortable,” Payne said. “They threw me in there, but at the same time I’ve been seeing this defense for three years I know what to go out and do, I know all the checks, I know all the calls, it’s about going out there and executing.”
While Payne is the likely option for the Jaguars, there is a chance linebacker Jake Ryan is activated from the team’s NFI (non-football injured) list prior to Sunday, especially if Jack is unable to suit up. Ryan has not played for the Jaguars thus far this season after suffering a setback during rehab away from the team in July.
Even if he is activated, it is unlikely Ryan will start on Sunday, however, he would be an option. The team still has a few days to make their decision as Ryan has been participating in practice since November 11th. The Jaguars will make their determination on Ryan’s status at some point before, or on December 2nd, when they will be forced to activate him or place the former Packers linebacker on the team’s reserve/injured list, ending his season.