JACKSONVILLE Fla. — Coaches say it all the time: You can never have too many pass-rushers … or cornerbacks … or playmakers.
In Jacksonville that apparently applies to linebackers too.
In addition to signing free agent Foyesade Oluokun, who led the NFL in tackles last season, the Jaguars drafted Devin Lloyd in the first round (No. 27) and Chad Muma in the third round (No. 68) to join a linebackers group that already included Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson, as well as first overall pick Travon Walker (an edge rusher, who will begin his career at linebacker).
So the questions are: How do they all fit together and how will they be used?
That’s not something that general manager Trent Baalke and coach Doug Pederson say has to be figured out.
“There’s versatility with the number of linebackers that you do have,” Pederson said. “The depth that you have allows for the use of special teams and the value that we place on special teams. Having guys now that are sort of the great athletes, but they’re sort of the high-speed internet guys that can process when things are moving extremely fast with the way offenses are designed and moving pieces nowadays, they can process that.
“If it’s a rotating basis or what not, a guy goes down and it’s plug-and-play. That’s the versatility of having linebackers that can play left and right. They don’t have to switch. They don’t have to flip. They can process the information that is presented in front of them.”
The Jaguars obviously had an overall idea of what they wanted to do defensively when they selected Walker, Lloyd and Muma. The degree to which they can execute the plan depends on how soon the players pick up the defense. It also depends on how quickly they become comfortable in their primary role before being asked to do other things because it sure sounds like Lloyd and Muma will move all over the place.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Lloyd lined up as a middle linebacker, an outside linebacker, and rushed off the edge as a blitzer at Utah, and his speed and athleticism allow him to make plays from sideline to sideline and in coverage . He’s a three-down player, and the Jaguars could line him up at a different spot for each snap.
“Being able to do everything at a high level that you could ask a linebacker to do — cover tight ends, running backs, play zone coverage, play the run, rush the passer, doing all those things — I feel like I’ m the most complete when it comes to doing all those things at a high level,” Lloyd said. “I’m only going to continue to get better. I feel like my ceiling is really high, and I can’t wait to get out with my coaches, my coaches in the NFL, and really just perfect my craft.”
The 6-3, 242-pound Muma said during an interview on Jacksonville sports radio station 1010XL that the Jaguars are going to use him in the money backer role that new coordinator Mike Caldwell is bringing with him from his time working under longtime defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. It’s a linebacker-safety hybrid who can play in the box against the run as well as cover receivers, backs and tight ends.
It’s also a position that had its origins as part of sub packages, but with the way offense has evolved, the players who are versatile enough to man that spot are seeing more time on the field with base defenses.
Muma played inside linebacker at Wyoming, and the Jaguars are going to start him out there while also having him contribute heavily on special teams.
“He’s a green-dot guy,” Baalke said. “He can run the defense. He’s a really good special teams player as well. There’s just a lot to like. A very good value at that point in the draft, a guy that we had high on our board that plays the game that we want to play, plays it physical. He can play on all four downs.”
With Lloyd and Muma figuring into the rotation, the Jaguars could go with Allen and Lloyd at outside linebacker, Oluokun and Muma at inside linebacker and Walker at defensive end or lining up in the interior (on obvious pass-rushing downs). Or with Allen and Walker at outside linebacker and Oluokun and Muma inside.
Or any number of combinations with Walker and Lloyd moving around. The Jaguars could use Lloyd at the money backer spot too.
The key is the Jaguars have flexibility to move guys around to create and exploit mismatches. Having position versatility is becoming more valuable as defenses try to keep up with high-flying offenses. Linebacker is a position where you can have success finding those kinds of guys.
“I don’t think we can ever have good enough linebackers,” Baalke said. “… When you say we’re overloaded at linebacker, you’re only one play away from being down a linebacker. As we’ve seen through the years, that’s a position where, knock on wood, you sometimes lose some guys.”