The Jacksonville Jaguars have had a bit of a revolving door at linebacker this season, but heading into Week 9 the locker room and coaching staff both feel like the group is gelling and getting more comfortable.
Six different players have been technical "starters" at linebacker this season, as long as you count the sometimes sparingly utilized strongside linebacker position. Here is the breakdown, with most of the changes taking place over the last few weeks:
- Myles Jack: Eight starts at middle linebacker.
- Quincy Williams: Five starts at weakside linebacker.
- Najee Goode: Two starts at weakside linebacker.
- Austin Calitro: One start at weakside linebacker.
- Leon Jacobs: Seven starts at strongside linebacker.
- Joe Giles-Harris: One start at strongside linebacker.
With so many different groupings over the last several weeks, and with other linebackers such as Malcolm Smith and Donald Payne just added to the roster last week, there has been some growing pains.
But heading into Week 9 vs. the Houston Texans, Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash thinks steps have been taken in the right direction. One of those steps, he said, will be the return of Goode from injury this Sunday.
“The [new linebackers] have been here another week, which makes me feel more comfortable. We are not just throwing them in there with three days of practice," Wash said Thursday. "Najee [Goode] is back this week, so he will be back in the starting lineup with Myles [Jack]."
Jack specifically has been one player who has been essential to not only Jacksonville's linebacker room, but their entire defense. After a rough start to the season, Jack has had his three best games over the last three weeks, and the player Wash has deemed the leader of the defense and how they line up has helped his fellow teammates.
"He is doing a nice job of just quarterbacking our whole defense," Wash said.
“He is our quarterback. He is our Gardner Minshew II or Nick Foles of the defense, whatever you want to say. He takes a lot of pride in being the quarterback and getting those younger guys lined up. Especially early in the week last week, Austin [Calitro] had not really played for us on defense. Myles is not only getting us lined up, he was getting him lined up. You have to give a lot of credit to Myles.”
Giles-Harris, a rookie undrafted linebacker who has only spent a few weeks on the team's active roster, said Wash's assessment of Jack's "quarterbacking" of the defense is correct. After all, Jack has been in Jacksonville the longest out of all of the linebackers and he has played all three positions at least once.
"Myles knows everything. Like, that is literally how it goes," Giles-Harris said. "If you have a question about Mike, Will or Sam, he is going to be there to answer it for you and he is not going to shy away from that. He embraces the role of being a leader, so it is great having a guy like that in your room."
With Goode back in the lineup with Jack, the experience of the linebacking core will be substantially improved compared to Week 8 when Calitro started, giving Jack another veteran to lean on.
And while Giles-Harris only played three snaps in Week 8 in place of an injured Jacobs, the rookie linebacker may see an uptick in snaps this Sunday. For reference, Jacobs played 18 snaps against the Texans in Week 2 since their offensive scheme calls for more three linebacker formations from the Jaguars defense.
And thanks to the veterans in the room, and an increased amount of time spent in the scheme, Giles-Harris is comfortable. It is hard to be, he said.
I feel comfortable with whatever role they need to put me in. I have great guys around me between Myles, Goode, Quincy and Leon Jacobs," he said. "The whole group is just a phenomenal group, so anyone that is out there is going to be comfortable."