The Jacksonville Jaguars are slowly but surely marching along with the rest of the NFL to the start of the 2021 season, arguably the most anticipated season in franchise history. As fans count down the seconds until the debuts of Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars are putting in time, energy and sweat to prepare for the season.
From now up until the start of Week 1, we will see the Jaguars grow as a team in Meyer's vision. The 90-man roster will be cut down as position battles take place throughout the roster.
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 Week 1 -- at least based off the information we currently have.
We have already hit the quarterback room and the running back and tight end positions, along with the offensive line and wide receiver units. We started on the defensive side with the cornerback room and now move to the second level with the linebacker unit.
The Jaguars' linebackers will have to blend into a new scheme in 2020, one that will likely ask them to do much more than the previous 4-3 under scheme. And leading the unit will be two experienced veterans in Joe Schobert and Myles Jack, each of whom has racked up starts and tackles over the last four seasons.
"When the players want to change, you always feel like you have a chance. Then, watching them go out on the field and see the guys that I have, it’s unbelievable to watch Joe [Schobert] and he’s been in the league the number of years he been in, even so with Myles [Jack] and then to get Damien from Kansas City and then have a young group of guys right below them," Jaguars assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach Charlie Strong said during minicamp.
"It’s been very impressive, and its’ been fun to watch. I just love their overall attitude, how they’re going about their working, how they’re going about their business.”
So, what do we think the Jaguars' linebacker unit will look like come Week 1? We take our best-educated guesses below.
No. 1 MLB: Joe Schobert
There isn't much questioning whether Joe Schobert will return as a starter in 2021. While the Jaguars addressed their linebacker depth with Damien Wilson, Schobert is still the best bet to be the Jaguars' starting middle linebacker once again in 2021. The sixth-year veteran is one of the team's highest-paid players and is a guarantee to be on the Week 1 roster as a result, so it is hard to envision the Jaguars don't give him a chance to live up to that deal.
Schobert had a few down performances in 2020, but he also was arguably the team's top defensive playmaker after Myles Jack, recording 141 tackles, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three interceptions. He will need to have a strong season to remain on the roster long-term, but this offseason did nothing to suggest he won't be the Week 1 starter at 'Mike' linebacker, even if Wilson still may see some snaps.
“Yeah, Coach [Charlie] Strong has a real good relationship with him now and we’ve got Damien [Wilson], Myles Jack and Joe [Schobert] are the top three guys at the linebackers and hopefully we’ll get a little bit of rotation going for those three, Mike and Will," Meyer said during minicamp.
"So, he’s been—he’s one of the strongest guys on the team, powerful, he had a great offseason with our strength staff and he’s all in. So, we’re anxious to see him have a good year.”
No. 2 MLB: Damien Wilson
A key veteran backup who has experience as both a 3-4 and 4-3 linebacker, Damien Wilson figures to be the first man up in Schobert's place in the event the Jaguars' iron man from a year ago misses any time this season. The seventh-year linebacker has over 50 career starts and excels as a physical and downhill-oriented linebacker.
In 93 games played (51 starts), Wilson has notched 249 tackles, 4.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. In 2020, Wilson recorded 70 tackles in 13 games (all starts) with the Chiefs. He doesn't have the range or coverage ability to be seen as an every-down player, but his experience and his ability to defend the run at least make him a more than serviceable backup option.
No. 1 WLB: Myles Jack
A player described by Meyer as an "alpha leader", there is an argument to make for Jack as the best player on the entire roster after his 2020 season. Jack missed two games in 2020 but still had the best season of his carer, recording career-high 118 tackles, a career-high six tackles for loss, and a career-high five pass deflections, all to go along with one forced fumble, one sack and one interception.
While Jack's job has never been questioned during his time as a starter since 2018, his job is perhaps even safer now than it ever has been before. There is zero doubt that Jack is going to start at 'Will' linebacker yet again in 2021, in part due to his talent, in part due to his wildly successful 2020, and in part due to the fact that Meyer and his staff seem to be all-in on Jack as one of their cornerstone players.
“Yeah, he’s an alpha leader, he’s a stud. I love the way he’s worked. He was a little overweight, he lost that weight immediately. He’s been A+ in the weight room and in the training," Meyer said during OTAs.
"You know, you need your Josh Allens and Myles Jacks to be who they are. And when I talk about core players, everyone wants to talk about free agency and the NFL draft, but I always try to make sure we mention the guys that I see [as] core players. ‘Does he have to play better?’ Yeah, a lot of the core players have to. But we’ve addressed it and he’s done everything we’ve asked and above and beyond since we stepped foot in Jacksonville.”
No. 2 WLB: Dakota Allen
It is tough to determine whether Dakota Allen or Quincy Williams have the upper edge on the backup job to Jack, but as of now, the edge may go to Allen. Allen stood out more than Williams during OTAs and minicamp, even if it is a bit hard for a linebacker to stand out in such practices. This could be a coin toss that goes down to the day of final cuts, but the smart money as of today would likely be that Wilson is Jack's immediate backup, and then Allen takes over behind him.
No. 1 SLB: K'Lavon Chaisson
A year after playing as a 4-3 defensive end for the entire duration of his rookie year, K'Lavon Chaisson will return to a more comfortable two-point stance in 2021 as the Jaguars' starting strong side linebacker. Chaisson will have more expanded responsibilities in this role, but he will also be given more chances to make plays against both the run and pass than he was in Todd Wash's defense.
Chaisson's primary job will, of course, be to get after the quarterback, but the Jaguars will also need him to round out their three-man linebacker group. If Chaisson can hit the ground running in the new scheme, he could give the Jaguars a legitimate 1-2-3 punch at linebacker, something the Jaguars haven't had since 2017.
No. 2 SLB: Lerentee McCray
Another spot that isn't yet fleshed out completely, Lerentee McCray will have to battle with Leon Jacobs for the second strong side linebacker role. Jacobs suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3 last season and has to make the transition from 4-3 strong side linebacker to 3-4 outside linebacker, so McCray's experience with both Meyer and Strong from his Florida days may give him the edge. McCray also has experience as a top special teams player, so this may give the Jaguars even more of a reason to keep him on the depth chart.
"When we first got the job here, he comes walking in my office and I just forgot that he was here and was just kind of shocked. But just seeing him work here the last few weeks, he’s been very good," Strong said during minicamp.
"I think Lerentee [McCray]’s one of those guys who’s going to give you everything he’s got, and he understands what we’re looking for because he had played for us before.”