Jaguars No-Name Linebackers

The Jaguars may have the best group of linebackers in the entire NFL that most people outside of Duval county have never heard of. As a once proud Jaguars defense had certain questions following a season in which they ranked 12th overall, their worst ranking in five years, nearly all of the uncertainty was on the defensive line and secondary.

The Jaguars boast a wealth of talent at linebacker, in which they have four players with legitimate starting talent in Mike Peterson, Daryl Smith, Justin Durant, and Clint Ingram. Unfortunately for one of those talented backers, Jacksonville plays a 4-3 defense and one of them will be on the sidelines to start games.

"That's a good situation right now where we think we've got four guys that we're confident can start and play, and I think the players will decide that in how they compete and how they can play with, again, production as the end result," said Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Duffner. "The most productive three players will be the guys taking the field for us."

So which player will be the odd man out to begin the season? It would seem as if veterans Mike Peterson and Daryl Smith are locks to start based upon their past productivity. That would leave both Justin Durant and Clint Ingram fighting for one starting spot. Both players are young, and Durant would seem to have the higher ceiling of the two players, as his sideline to sideline speed and playmaking ability is undeniable. Both Durant and Ingram can play either outside linebacker position, and many of the team's linebackers are versatile in that sense.

"With all these guys early in their career, we put them in one spot and let them get a foundation established and I think that's been Coach Del Rio's philosophy all the way through," said coach Duffner. "But we always, you've heard him (Del Rio) say ‘cross train,' and we get them to learn the other positions."

This versatility from the Jaguars young players coach Duffner terms as "hidden depth."

"We may have four starters right now but the fact that they can play all the positions, you really can have like six guys that are in position rather than four guys. So the hidden depth means they can come in and start at other positions even though they may be listed at a certain position."

Perhaps the best example of that "hidden depth" is linebacker Daryl Smith. Smith starred at the middle linebacker position when he was in college at Georgia Tech, then he played outside with the Jaguars due to the team already having a star in the middle in Mike Peterson. When Peterson has gone down with injuries over the past two seasons, Smith has slid back over to the middle, and the defense hasn't missed a beat.

With the Jaguars speedy foursome at the linebacker position, as well as whichever players they keep for depth which will mostly be utilized on special teams, Jacksonville certainly has a unit that can compete with any in the league, even if the names of Peterson, Smith, Durant and/or Ingram don't have the cache of some other teams. The players seem to be legitimately unselfish, and they are all quality people off the field.

"I think from top to bottom I've got very high-character guys that are highly competitive," said coach Duffner. "And then the thing that is unique is that there is such good athleticism from top to bottom. You see guys that have the ability to change direction and can recover. That's a key, key point in linebacker. With all the spread offense and things, you might get out of position but if you've got good athletic skills and quickness you can get back into position pretty quickly and this group's got a lot of that."

It remains to be seen how well Jacksonville's defense will do this season as they will be depending on a pair of rookies to help supply a pass rush, and a high-priced free agent corner that may not even be listed as a starter on opening day. The position on defense (and possibly on the entire team) that certainly has the fewest questions is at linebacker, where the Jaguars should be very good to excellent, even if it goes mostly unnoticed.

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