Bring the Payne: Jaguars' Coaches, Locker Room Confident in New Middle Linebacker Donald Payne
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When Jacksonville Jaguars starting middle linebacker went down with a knee injury that kept him off of the field for the first time in his four-year career in Week 13, there were question marks at linebacker.
Would veteran Jake Ryan, who hasn't played a snap all season due to recovery from an ACL injury, play the spot, or would it be career special teams player Donald Payne?
It ended up being Payne, the third-year linebacker from Stetson University who only had 10 career defensive snaps to his name before Week 13.
Now with Jack placed on injured reserve earlier this week, Jacksonville will lean on Payne once again, this time for the final month of the season.
“Obviously, we would like to have [Jack] on the grass, but I thought Donald went out last week and played well," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said Thursday at TIAA Bank Field. "We knew this was a possibility, and we are very excited about how Donald played last week and hopefully he can add on to it this week.”
Payne totaled 13 tackles and a sack in his first career start and while he made mistakes, the hope is he can continue to build upon his impressive performance as the season progresses. In the meantime, Jack will be helping Payne with the transition to a starting role.
"I am just trying to make the most of these four games. I got my first start last week, so that was a big thing," Payne said in the locker room this week. "Myles is currently helping me out on defensive checks."
"He is going to be around talking to us, helping me out with all of the defensive checks and everything like that. At the end of the day, the Mike linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, so it is a big task."
Linebacker isn't a huge transition for Payne because he played the position in college, but he was never once asked to do anything but special teams in three years on the Jaguars' roster until Jack got hurt. For the third-year player, he sees this as a chance to show what he can do in an expanded role.
"I felt comfortable. I love playing defense; that is what I did in college," Payne said. "I never played any special teams in college, and I have kind of been a special teams staple here the last three years but now I get a chance to play defense."
Payne and Wash are confident in Payne's ability to perform at middle linebacker, but so are the players Payne shares the field with. Nickel cornerback D.J. Hayden said he came away from last Sunday thinking Payne had a solid performance, giving him confidence for the final four weeks.
"I feel like Payne played well last week so I feel like Payne can do it, and I trust him, and I believe in him, and I am ready," Hayden said.
The 4-8 Jaguars will host the 4-8 Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field this Sunday as Payne makes his second career start.