New Man in the Middle for Jaguars

With Mike Peterson now in Atlanta, the Jaguars will have a new player starting at middle linebacker in the fall. However, the player replacing Peterson isn't the guy you probably thought it would be. Find out who Jack Del Rio thinks will be a great fit.

Jacksonville did not retain Mike Peterson after what can be categorized as a rocky 2008 campaign. Peterson and Head Coach Jack Del Rio didn't see eye-to-eye on several occasions, and that combined with declining production ended Peterson' run in Jacksonville.

Peterson essentially getting the ax was not a surprise, as the Jaguars have accumulated linebackers in the draft for the past several years. What does come as a bit of a shock though is who appears to be replacing Peterson in the middle.

For the past several years, when Peterson has missed games, Daryl Smith has slid over from the outside to lineup as the ‘Mike' backer and he was solid if not stellar during the occasions he manned the middle. However, it will be third-year linebacker Justin Durant that will play inside for the Jaguars.

This may come as a surprise for some, but for Del Rio, it is pretty cut and dry.

"Not a whole to figure out, really," said Del Rio while addressing why Durant was playing in the middle and where Brain Williams would line up. "Justin is going to play the middle."

Last season, Durant finished with 70 tackles on the year (62 solo) and defended five passes. The former second-round draft pick has some of the best sideline-to-sideline speed of any linebacker in the NFL and was almost too fast at times last year, if that's a bad thing.

In two seasons with the Jaguars, Durant has been productive, but it seemed that it was Smith, not Durant, who was being groomed to replace Peterson in the middle.

Smith has accumulated 361 tackles in five seasons with the Jaguars and has been a mainstay for Jacksonville's defense. Del Rio was adamant in saying that he still had a ton of faith in Smith, even if he won't play middle linebacker.

"Just sorting through, putting our best combination of people in places that makes the most sense for us," added Del Rio. "We love Daryl (Smith). I think Daryl's been an emerging star in the league."

At 6'1", 232 lbs., Durant is a little on the light side for a middle linebacker by NFL standards, but the Jaguars are likely hoping that he can be protected by veteran defensive tackle John Henderson (6'7", 335 lbs.) and rookie Terrance Knighton (6'3", 321 lbs.). If the linemen can gobble up would-be blockers, then Durant can move around freely and will be able to utilize his excellent agility.

As for Smith, he will return to outside linebacker, a position that he is familiar with. Will the swap pay dividends for the Jaguars? Only time will tell, but Del Rio feels like it's the right move and that it will enable Smith to have a big year.

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