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Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Linebacker

Which linebackers are set to play a big role for the Jaguars this fall?

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a few weeks away from kicking off Doug Pederson's first training camp at the helm, giving us plenty of time to take a look at each of the team's position groups before the 2022 season.

Jacksonville wasn't afraid to make a number of big moves on both sides of the ball this offseason, both via the free agency and the draft. Now, they have a new-look roster that contrasts in a big way from the roster we saw the team field in Week 1 in 2021.

Related: Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Quarterback

Related: Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Running Back

Related: Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Tight End 

Next up: the linebacker position. What does it look like today, what changes did the Jaguars make and what needs to be addressed ahead of camp?

The depth chart

Foyesade Oluokun

Age/Experience: 26/fifth season.

2021 stats

  • 192 tackles
  • 102 solo tackles
  • 90 assisted tackles
  • Four tackles for loss
  • Seven quarterback hits
  • Two sacks
  • One forced fumble
  • Six pass deflections
  • Three interceptions

The Jaguars knew they needed a new starting middle linebacker this season and their top target was always Atlanta Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, who the Jaguars were linked to well before free-agency ever began. Oluokun was signed to a three-year deal worth between $45 million to $46.5 million that carries a guarantee of $28 million at signing.

"He makes about every tackle on the field. He led the league in tackles last year. You know, he's a smart football player," Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said in March.

"He's athletic, he competes on all three downs. He's good in the pass game. He's very good against the run. He's got range. There's a lot to like about him, a lot to like. And he's a hard worker, culture builder. He's healthy. He's young. He's just beginning his career really."

Oluokun is the Jaguars' guy at linebacker this year. While they have two young and talented linebackers waiting in the wings, Oluokun is someone whose versatility, production and durability makes him the Jaguars' most important linebacker.

Devin Lloyd (R)

Age/Experience: 23/first season.

2021 stats: N/A.

The starter at inside linebacker across from Oluokun this season will be rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd, who the Jaguars traded back up into the first-round to select in April. The Jaguars traded the No. 33 pick, the No. 106 pick (fourth-round), and the No. 180 pick (sixth-round) for the No. 27 pick, giving them the chance to take the versatile and productive Utah linebacker.

"He can cover. He can rush the passer. He's very good against the run inside the tackle box and outside," Baalke said. "So just a lot of versatility, and he's a culture setter. He's a great young man. He fits into what we're trying to build here, and we're looking forward to having him here."

Lloyd started 13 more games in 2021, being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Pac 12 as he recorded 110 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 10 pass deflections and four interceptions. Lloyd will learn on the job as a rookie in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell's defense, but he is landing in a spot similar to what Devin White landed in out of LSU.

Chad Muma (R)

Age/Experience: 22/first season.

2021 stats: N/A.

One of the more controversial picks the Jaguars made this April was selecting Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma at No. 70 overall. Not because of the player, with Muma entering the draft as one of the best linebackers in the entire class and presenting terrific value at No. 70, especially considering some of the linebackers taken in front of him. 

Instead, the move raised some eyebrows because it was just one night previously when the Jaguars traded up to select Lloyd. With Lloyd and Oluokun both on the roster, the Jaguars seemingly had their two starting linebackers in place and could have picked a different starter at No. 70. But Muma was simply too good for the Jaguars to pass up, giving them a chance to turn the linebacker room into a true strength.

"He was highly rated on our board for one. He fits the culture we’re trying to build. I don’t think we can ever have enough good linebackers," Baalke said after the selection.

"A very good value at that point in the draft, a guy that we had high on our board that plays the game that we want to play, plays it physical. He can play on all four downs. Again, when you say we’re overloaded at linebacker, you’re only one play away from being down a linebacker. As we’ve seen through the years that’s a position where, knock on wood, you sometimes lose some guys. Very confident he’s going to come in and be a big part of this program." 

Shaquille Quarterman

Age/Experience: 24/third season.

2021 stats:

  • 30 tackles
  • 16 solo tackles
  • 14 assisted tackles
  • One tackles for loss
  • One quarterback hit

A former 2020 fourth-round pick, Shaquille Quarterman was effectively the Jaguars' No. 3 linebacker, playing 142 snaps (13%) and appearing in all 17 games. He was the Jaguars' primary backup behind middle linebacker Damien Wilson, giving the Jaguars a young linebacker who could thump against the run and provide solid tackling after the catch in the passing game. Quarterman also has 426 special teams snaps in two years, so he can function as a backup MIKE and key special teams player as Muma slots in behind Lloyd at WILL.

Chapelle Russell

Age/Experience: 25/third season.

2021 stats:

  • 18 tackles
  • 10 solo tackles
  • Eight assisted tackles

A player who was able to make the roster last season thanks to his upside and special teams ability, Chapelle Russell is someone the Jaguars relied on last year considering he appeared in 16 of the 17 games. His special teams snaps (298, 72%) outweighed his defensive snaps (92, 9%), but he did make one start on defense and was frequently one of the first linebackers the Jaguars turned to when they faced injuries. He was also coached by Mike Caldwell in 2020 when Caldwell was Tampa's linebackers coach.

Tyrell Adams

Age/Experience: 30/seventh season.

2021 stats:

  • Three tackles
  • Three solo tackles

The Jaguars signed veteran linebacker Tyrell Adams to the roster from the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad last December and then extended Adams this offseason, showing the front office and coaching staff seemingly see something in Adams' potential to make a mark on either the defense or special teams. 

Adams signed with the Seahawks as a rookie free agent in 2015. His career totals include 44 games played, 152 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, four passes defended, and three forced fumbles. Adams played 12 games with the Raiders (2018-19), 25 with the Texans (2018-20) and five with the 49ers (2021) before playing two with the Jaguars last season.

Grant Morgan (R)

Age/Experience: 24/first year.

2021 stats: N/A.

A first-team All-SEC linebacker during his career at Arkansas, Grant Morgan signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent following the 2022 NFL Draft. Morgan projects best as a middle linebacker who could potentially provide depth on special teams, but he will have to make an impression in training camp to jump ahead of other linebackers at the bottom of the roster.

How the room changed this offseason

There is no other way to describe it. The Jaguars took a sledgehammer to their linebacker room this offseason, tearing away at the foundation of the past and adding an entire new group of core players at the position after years of struggles and disappointing performances from the Jaguars at linebacker.

The Jaguars invested quite a bit into linebackers in recent years, giving Myles Jack and Joe Schobert significant contracts while drafting Quincy Williams in the third round and Shaquille Quarterman in the fourth. Only Quarterman remains though.

Williams failed to make last year's roster but has since made an impact with the Jets, making the Jaguars look foolish for both releasing him and for failing to develop him. Schobert was traded before Week 1 for a sixth-round pick, while Jack was released on the second day of free agency. Add in the expired contract of 2021 starter Damien Wilson, and the Jaguars hit the reset button on the linebacker position over the last 12 months.

The Jaguars were aggressive to find replacements at linebacker, too. The Jaguars made Foyesade Oluokun their top target at the position in free agency, signing the former Atlanta Falcon to a three-year, $45 million deal with $28 million guaranteed. The Jaguars were not done, either, trading back into the first round to select Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd at No. 27 overall and then selecting Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma at No. 70 with one of the first picks of the third round. 

The biggest storyline surrounding the group following the offseason

How are the Jaguars going to get all of these new linebackers on the field? The Jaguars made the type of investments in three different linebackers that typically suggest the player will start sooner than later. The issue, of course, is that in today's NFL -- and especially in the Jaguars' defensive scheme -- there are just two off-ball linebackers on the field. Even in the base defense, the Jaguars will have just two. In nickel, this is again true. 

The upside for the Jaguars is that Oluokun, Lloyd and Muma are all able to be on the field on any down. None are run-only or pass-only linebackers, with all three having the range and coverage ability to stay on the field on passing downs and the diagnosing and tackling ability to stay on the field against 12 and 13 personnel. But while there could be certain packages the Jaguars could have all three on the field thanks to Lloyd's versatility, most times the Jaguars will have just two.

This is more of an issue of an embarrassment of riches, which is clearly preferable to not having enough depth or playmakers at a position. Still, the Jaguars turned inside linebacker into a strength this offseason but swill have to prove they know how to get the most out of all of their new additions.