Jags Must Makeover the Linebacker Position

It appears that after three seasons of the Justin Durant era at linebacker, the Jaguars would like to be headed in a different direction. Find out which players they may be interested in via the draft.

When coach Jack Del Rio evaluated his team at the end of the season, he singled out linebacker Daryl Smith as one of the teams "core players."

Del Rio said, "He probably had his best year as a Jaguar. He really had a strong year for us."

There's no doubt that Smith was one of the team's core players although he didn't make the Pro Bowl. Playing all 16 games for the second year in a row, Smith led the team with 156 tackles, including 109 solo tackles. In his career, he is credited by the team with 918 tackles, which is a team record.

The problem is that Smith was the only first-rate linebacker on the team. Their other two starting linebackers, Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant, failed to make much of an impact and neither one may be back with the team. And backup Russell Allen is a journeyman undrafted free agent who is mainly a special teams player.

Morrison and Durant are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents when the lockout ends and the Jaguars didn't appear to make much of an attempt to sign either one although one of them might be brought back for a minimum salary type deal.

The lack of a strong linebacking corps is one of the reasons why the Jaguars were 28th in defensive yardage allowed and 22nd in run defense. Morrison was obtained in a trade with the Raiders a year ago, but isn't a big time playmaker.

And Durant was plagued by injuries last year and played in only 10 games and started nine. He missed the last three games of the year with a groin injury when the Jaguars lost their last three games to finish 8-8 after starting out 8-5.

Despite the need at linebacker, the Jaguars don't figure to take a linebacker in the first round because general manager Gene Smith stresses taking the best available player and a linebacker isn't likely to be a good fit at the 16th spot.

And if they don't get a quarterback in the first round, they could take one on the second round because they haven't drafted a quarterback since they took Byron Leftwich in 2003.

So that may mean they may not wind up looking at a linebacker before the third round. Among the possible candidates is middle linebacker Quan Sturdivant of North Carolina, who may be a third-round pick. He may get a long look.

The 4-3 defense they use is designed to funnel plays to the middle linebacker and they need an upgrade over Morrison. Sturdivant could be that player and is likely to be a third- or fourth-round pick.

Sturdivant was a three-year starter who doesn't have good size at 6-1 and 241 but makes up for it with good instincts. He's also known for being a leader and Smith likes that quality in a player.

If the Jaguars decide to go for an outside linebacker, Akeem Dent of Georgia and North Carolina State's Nate Irving are possibilities.

Dent lacks ideal speed and Irving overcame a life-threatening car accident, but he is worth a look.


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