When the Jacksonville Jaguars assessed their offensive line in the offseason, they were aware of three things. Jermey Parnell was their right tackle, AJ Cann was their right guard and Brandon Linder was their center of the future. The other two positions on the offensive line, where the team has two players – Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum – fighting for the left tackle spot and the other possibly moving to left guard, are basically up for grabs.
For Linder, after being out of action most of 2015 with a torn labrum, the new start is just another challenge. And if he is to remain the best lineman on a unit that reduced its sacks totals last season, his role is now one he should embrace – the one of leader.
“Mentally, you have to really be on your stuff,” Linder said in an article on Jaguars.com. “Obviously, I have a lot of work to do, but it’s been going well.”
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The University of Miami star made a name for himself in his rookie season as a third-round pick. The rest has been about getting better and growing into a new role on a team that appears ready to take the next step toward a winning franchise.
The Jaguars have had offensive line issues for years and have not had a quality like to speak of since the days of Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy mauling defensive linemen. The effect has been a porous running game and Blake Bortles having to move around in a collapsing pocket for a good portion of last season. He may have thrown for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns, but those numbers could have been better had the line been more effective.
Gone is Stefen Wisniewski, who was jettisoned as a free agent. Luke Bowanko is still on the roster but suffered a hip injury in the first few days of OTAs. The Jaguars added pieces to their line problems in free agency but never addresses the need for a center. It was the plan all along. Shore up the middle of the line with the best player the team can put out there, and the rest will hopefully gel.
Having offensive line coach Doug Marrone around for a second consecutive year should also help with continuity and effectiveness.
Linder said, in the story by John Oehser, that is a big part of the change, and that he is trying to learn the offense from the ground up in offseason meetings. He said he feels he has chemistry on and off the field with quarterback Blake Bortles, and that mastering the offense – or at least working toward mastering it – is key.
Once he can get over that hurdle the rest should become a bit easier. Nothing has been easy for the Jaguars offensive line play. There were 51 sacks last season, with eight in the final game. That is still too many, even though that is a far cry from the 72 times a Jaguars quarterback hit the ground in 2014.
Everything starts in the middle – with Linder leading the way. With three offensive line positions squarely decided, having Linder back in the fold makes things a little easier to manage for the team’s coaching staff. Now, if the team could just find a way to make the left side of the line better, this is a unit that really could be a stalwart in the upcoming season.