For now, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the other 31 NFL clubs are restricted to a virtual world and have yet to take any fields together for offseason team activities. Competitions for starting roles have yet to be had but rest assured, they will still eventually be battled.
But with the season still scheduled as of today to begin on time, it can still be a worthwhile exercise to project how certain position groups may shape up come the regular season. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are set to trot out one of the league's youngest rosters in 2020, there are a number of positions that still needed to be sorted out from top to bottom, whether it be at the starting role or along the depth.
As this offseason progresses, we will take a look at each position and give our best guess as to what the depth chart will look like come September, or whenever the season does start.
Jacksonville is returning all six of the offensive linemen who started games for the team in 2019, with the only notable addition along the unit being fourth-round interior lineman Ben Bartch. Jacksonville's offensive line struggled throughout last season (only three rushing touchdowns by the entire team), but head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell have said repeatedly this offseason that they expect a big year out of the group.
"But I really think that this group could take a big jump. It's their first year with coach [George] Warhop. I have a ton of respect for him as a football coach," Marrone said in April.
"I think those players have a better understanding [of] what they want, what's expected of them and I think you're going to see that 'jump'. When you're going through different coaches it's hard to make a jump cause you're just looking to please or do everything that coach wants you the first year. And then I think that second year you have a better understanding of things and I think it's gonna show on the field, and that's what we told that group, I really believe that."
With the Jaguars offensive line likely to look much like it did in 2019, but with a few minor changes, here is our way-too-early projection of the depth chart.
Left Tackle: Cam Robinson (starter), Will Richardson (backup).
Marrone said a few weeks ago third-year lineman Will Richardson would be moving to left tackle full-time after spending most of his 2019 season at right guard. But before Richardson took any regular season snaps at guard last year, he started two games at left tackle while fourth-year left tackle Cam Robinson recovered from injury. Richardson, a fourth-round pick out of NC State in 2018, played right tackle in college and he will now be tasked with pushing Robinson for the starting role on the blind side.
"In specifically with Will, I'm gonna go back a little bit to the draft, you know, we were looking, you know, we were going to take a lineman, and we were thinking about, you know, do we want to take a tackle, do we want to take an inside player," Marrone said. "Where we were drafting when we had slotted what we wanted to take, we didn't want to limit ourselves to a certain position, meaning that Will gave us the flexibility. Because, you know, he had played inside and played well at times, he played tackle and I thought he played well at times, for us to go out and get the best offensive lineman, you know, that we thought in the draft at that time."
Robinson, the team's second-round selection in 2017, has started 31 games at left tackle over the last three seasons, along with three starts in playoff games. Robinson had an encouraging rookie season but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3 of his sophomore season. In 2019, Robinson continued to show his effectiveness as a run blocker, but his pass blocking was a considerable issue.
Robinson has significantly more experience at left tackle than Richardson so we are giving him the early edge now. But no other Jaguars' blocker will be pushed as hard as Robinson will be by Richardson, and there is a real chance Richardson wins the job and starts Week 1 if Robinson doesn't show development in pass protection.
Left Guard: Andrew Norwell (starter), Tyler Shatley (backup).
There will be no battle here. Tyler Shatley is set to be the Jaguars' top backup along the interior of the offensive line, but Andrew Norwell will be starting for the Jaguars at left guard as long as he is healthy. Norwell hasn't exactly met expectations over the last two seasons, but he is probably around the league average in terms of quality of play.
Expectations have been so high with Norwell to begin with because he signed a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jaguars in 2018, making him one of the NFL's highest-paid linemen. Since then, Norwell has started 27-of-32 games at left guard for Jacksonville, but he has yet to match the heights he reached with the Carolina Panthers, where he was named an All-Pro in 2017.
Center: Brandon Linder (starter), Tyler Shatley (backup).
Jacksonville's most consistent offensive lineman during the Marrone era, there is zero question that Brandon Linder will start at center for Jacksonville once football returns. Shatley will likely back Linder up, but Linder is coming off one of his best regular seasons since the Jaguars drafted him in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft and is expected to once again be the anchor in the middle of Jacksonville's offense.
Last year was the first time in Linder's career that he was able to play all 16 regular season games, putting behind a reputation of injuries that had followed him throughout his career. As long as he is healthy, he is one of the better centers in the NFL, and that should be expected to continue in 2020.
"He’s having a good year. He’s probably one of the brighter sports of the team in a bad situation [and] not playing well, but he’s actually been playing well," Marrone said toward the end of last season.
"Actually, I think recently what you’ve seen is his play has actually gotten better, so he’s finishing stronger and that’s what you want to do. You want to start strong and finish stronger, so I think he’s doing a very good job of that. He’s done a good job of maintaining his body during the year. Last year he’s always been nicked up and hurt, but he’s been pretty consistent this year and I think he’s done a really good job of managing himself and playing well.”
Right Guard: A.J. Cann (starter), Ben Bartch (backup).
Jacksonville's third-round selection in 2015, A.J. Cann has started 75 games at guard for the Jaguars over the last five seasons. He has battled bouts of inconsistency, specifically in pass protection, but he has done enough to continue to earn the Jaguars' trust. He rotated with Richardson throughout last season after Richardson nearly won the starting guard job in training camp, but a highly contested position battle shouldn't be expected again this season.
Meanwhile, rookie guard Ben Bartch will likely have his first NFL season be more of a redshirt year considering he is transitioning from offensive tackle to guard and will be facing a leap in competition after he spent the last several years at Division III St. John's University in Minnesota. Jacksonville selected Bartch with the No. 116th pick in this year's fourth-round and they clearly have high hopes for him, but there is little chance he moves Cann off from atop of the depth chart early on.
Right Tackle: Jawaan Taylor (starter), Ryan Pope (backup).
Another position that is already decided before the Jaguars even hit the field again, Jawaan Taylor is locked in as Jacksonville's right tackle for 2020. The 2019 second-round pick vindicated the Jaguars' decision to trade up for him in last year's draft after he started all 16 games as a rookie, not missing a single snap. Taylor certainly had his warts, such as holding penalties, but he improved leaps and bounds from Week 1 to Week 17, leaving a strong impressing on Jacksonville's coaching staff.
"He’s long, he’s athletic and he plays with the tenacity that you love from a tackle," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said in May. "I am very excited to get to work with him at right tackle. He can run, he can pull, he can get out there on screens, he’s physical in the running game and he can pass protect, he’s got great feet.
"I think that he’s one of the best right tackles in the game athletically and the more he plays and the more he sees, the better he is going to get. Coach [George] Warhop has done an excellent job with him.”