The Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line this season will be front and center, likely dictating the way the team will move throughout the season in not only protecting starting quarterback Gardner Minshew II but also to provide running room for running back Leonard Fournette.
At the forefront will be center Brandon Linder, who is entering his seventh season as the team’s quarterback along the offensive line. Drafted in 2014, Linder is coming off of one of his best seasons, staying healthy throughout all 16 games for the first time since being selected.
Out of 96 potential games, Linder has played in just 70, including the 16 he played in last season.
While there is no magic to staying healthy - oftentimes players are not in control of those situations -, Linder has worked hard, and over the past two seasons has taken better control of his body, working on his nutrition to stay in shape and to maintain.
“I think the biggest thing for me and what’s been helping me elevate my game is the stuff I do off the field,” Linder told reporters last week. “Maintaining my body work, all the maintenance I do with that. The past two off seasons I’ve done a lot of Pilates, that’s something that I’ve incorporated into my routine, that’s helped me a lot.
“Nutrition is a big thing. Last year was the first year I was able to stay healthy and play every game so that was big for me.”
Linder feels that with all of the various practices he’s settled into, he is finally able to stay fresh and able to lead the team’s offensive line. Staying healthy has been his primary issue in the league, and now it appears he could be on the path to continue that success.
“That’s the whole goal again this year, staying healthy, playing every game and playing at a high level and that’s what I intend to do.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Linder has allowed eight sacks his entire career, including five during his rookie season, and zero last year. He’s been the team’s most consistent player, and that much has drawn praise from Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone.
“I don’t think it’s a secret,” Marrone said last week when asked about what Linder has meant to the team’s offensive line.
“I think Brandon has been a very consistent football player, a good football player for us. Brandon brings a lot into the building outside of him just being able to play. I’m excited about where he is, but you look at it and it is not a secret. I have been saying it since right after the season when people are saying what are you going to do with the offensive line? I feel pretty good.”
The Jaguars are going through changes along the offensive line. After an inconsistent season last year due to various reasons, most importantly the change at quarterback in week one, the team was never able to stay consistent.
Throughout the year, the Jaguars implemented a rotation at right guard with veterans AJ Cann and Will Richardson Jr. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson was coming off of a knee injury which sidelined him for the entire season prior.
One bright spot along the team’s offensive line came in the form of then-rookie right tackle Jawaan Taylor, drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Taylor entered the year as the team’s starter and finished the year as the team’s starter never missing a single snap. Linder saw the improvement throughout the year from Taylor and believes the sky is the limit for the young offensive lineman.
“I think it’s all going up. He’s an incredible athlete and an incredible talent now he’s getting the knowledge under his belt and getting experience in the NFL.” said Linder. “He played, I think every game last year and that’s incredible for a rookie to come in and do that. So now, the ceiling and everything is going up for him.”
While oft-criticized, the offensive line is shaped to be much improved this season. While there was room to improve, the team ranked in the middle of the pack among NFL offensive lines in pass protection, according to Football Outsiders. Fournette carried the football 265 times for 1,152 yards (4.3 yards per carry), the best rushing season of his career.
All eyes will certainly be on the team’s offense, entering a new era under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, and the offensive line will be front and center of it all.