How Do the Jaguars’ Coaches and Executives View the Offensive Line Heading Into the Offseason?
Most analysts and fans alike have pegged the Jacksonville Jaguars as a candidate to invest in the offensive line early in the 2020 NFL Draft, and potentially even in free agency. But do the Jaguars actually feel that way?
Jacksonville has large investments at every spot of the offensive line, with both starting tackles from 2019 being former second-round selections in the last three years and each of the three interior linemen playing on either big-money free agent deals or second deals with the team.
And while the unit's play didn't always vindicate those investments in 2019, general manager Dave Caldwell and new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden each had a lot of praise for the Jaguars' blocking unit this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"Andrew [Norwell] actually played at a high level. [Brandon] Linder probably played at an extremely high level as a center. A.J. [Cann] and Will [Richardson] did a nice job as a rotating guard. And we have a guy that we feel like has a very high ceiling in Jawaan Taylor," Caldwell said this week, via John Reid of the Florida Times-Union.
"I think [head coach] Doug [Marrone] feels like that is one position group that could be even better this year for us."
At left tackle, Jacksonville will enter this offseason with 2017 second-round selection Cam Robinson as the top dog. Robinson suffered an ACL injury in 2018 and missed most of the offseason with rehabbing the injury. Now, Robinson will be given a chance to stay healthy throughout the offseason and enter the year healthy.
Taylor, the team's second-round selection in 2019, had an encouraging rookie season by all standards and will enter 2020 as the unquestioned starter. He now has an abundance of experience thanks to playing 100% of the Jaguars' offensive snaps in 2019.
Norwell, Cann, and Richardson all had flashes at the guard positions, but there was limits to their consistency. Linder played all 16 games of the regular season for the first time in his career, which dates back to 2014, and by most accounts was far and away the Jaguars' best offensive lineman in 2019.
The six linemen were far from dominant last year, but what they put on tape has caught the eyes of Gruden, who was hired in January as the team's replacement for 2019 offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
"If you look at the offensive line, Cam [Robinson] did some good things at left tackle, but he was in and out of the lineup]; he has to get healthy," Gruden said this week via Jaguars.com. "Obviously, Andrew [Norwell] – the left guard who they paid as a free agent – is a powerful, good player. Brandon [Linder]'s a heck of a center; that's exciting.
Caldwell said during his Tuesday media availability that the team actually views the offensive line as a strength of the team. He was asked if quarterback Gardner Minshew II's mobility was needed due to the offensive line, and he countered with the fact that the Jaguars' brass carries a strong opinion of the unit.
“No. I think with the offensive line – we were just having a meeting before we came here and we feel that is actually one of the strong points of us," Caldwell said. "I think the NFL is going towards an off scheduled quarterback. When you have a quarterback that can do some off scheduled plays and when things break down or create a play with their feet and get third down and convert to a first down … I think with Gardner, that is a really good trait to have.”
As of now, it seems as if the Jaguars are high on their offensive line heading into 2020, and hopeful that several players will either take a jump or sustain their play. With the five starters from last season all under contract in 2020, it wouldn't be too outlandish for one to expect the offensive line to look more like it did last year than any other shape.