5 Jacksonville Jaguars Who Will Steal Starting Spots in Training Camp
John Wooden, a legendary NCAA basketball coach, once said, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
This quote should be applied to the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars, who are trying to step out of a recent history of losing seasons.
As the first preseason game approaches, there are plenty of positional battles to keep an eye on. Whether it’s along the offensive line or defensive secondary, positions are up for grabs.
The goal for the Jaguars is find the best players, not the most tenured ones. With such a young team, I expect some new talent to emerge in the starting lineup.
Let’s see which players are in a position to steal a starting role this season.
Brandon Linder, Right Guard
Brandon Linder is a guy whom I pegged from the onset to emerge as a starter on this offensive line. After all, you don’t trade up for a guy in the third round if you don’t expect him to contribute immediately.
Despite suffering a sprained right foot, Linder has already seen time working with the starters. As he comes back off the injury, I expect he’ll resume his position once he feels comfortable again.
Linder is currently competing against veteran right guard Jacques McClendon. While he has experience, tape shows a player who lacks the athleticism to match up against elite pass-rushers.
Linder is a definite upgrade for the position and represents the future of the offensive line. He’ll steal a starting role before the season opener and will become a mainstay on this offensive line for years.
Jacques McClendon, Center
While McClendon will lose the battle at right guard to rookie Brandon Linder, he should win the battle for starting center.
Jaguars are looking for someone to replace long-time starter Brad Meester. Currently, McClendon and Mike Brewster are battling to assume that role. Brewster received snaps at both center and guard in 2013, surrendering five quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Brewster has been a concern so far in camp. It seems that during one-on-one drills, opposing defensive linemen consistently beat him. As Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country noted from the team’s latest practice, Brewster was once again beaten badly one-one-one against veteran defensive tackle Roy Miller.
McClendon has looked good in drills so far in training camp. At 324 pounds, he is weighty enough to be an anchor in the middle, where his deficient footwork won't be as exposed. It will be interesting to see both players go against unfamiliar opponents in the preseason.
Telvin Smith, Outside Linebacker
Considering the retirement of Russell Allen and the veteran play of the team’s linebackers in 2013, it’s no question that the team needs an upgrade at the outside linebacker position.
Selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft, Smith is starting to turn heads at training camp.
Currently, he is behind veteran Geno Hayes on the depth chart but has already seen work with the first-team defense in nickel packages. Smith has made numerous plays and seems to be a perfect fit in Gus Bradley’s defense.
What make Smith stand out among his peers are his speed, intensity and all-around skill set. He still has a lot of growing to do, but he has shown an ability to cover and play well against the run. Additionally, his passion and leadership potential remind you of a young Ray Lewis.
The only thing that really limits Smith is his size. At 218 pounds, there is legitimate concern about how he will be able to handle opposing offensive linemen.
Nevertheless, Smith is the type of playmaking linebacker who can thrive in Bradley’s defense. He’ll unseat Hayes sooner than expected.
Winston Guy, Free Safety
With last year’s starting free safety Josh Evans nursing a foot injury, Winston Guy is in a position to seize a golden opportunity.
And seize it he shall.
Guy has been receiving work with the starting defense so far in camp and has looked strong. Playing alongside second-year safety Johnathan Cyprien, Guy appears to be making plays and getting his hands on the ball.
Guy is really a hybrid safety who has good range and is very effective playing up toward the line of scrimmage. In college, he was a bit of a project, but his raw talent was evident. With some good coaching, he improved his coverage skills every season.
In 14 games played with the Jaguars last season, Guy notched 29 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. To become a viable starter in the league, he’ll have to make more plays in the passing game. If training camp means anything, he’s looking a lot more comfortable and should be able to become a playmaker.
Demetrius McCray, Cornerback
The worst-kept secret is that Gus Bradley is bringing the Seattle Seahawks defense to Jacksonville. While he is definitely adding his own twist to it, one thing remains the same—physical cornerbacks.
While we saw how talented Dwayne Gratz was last season as a rookie, Demetrius McCray can be the Brandon Browner to Gratz’s Richard Sherman.
Those comparisons might be a little much at the moment, but these are two talented young players.
McCray is currently battling Alan Ball for a starting spot. Ball, a career journeyman, came off an impressive and unforeseen season last year, amassing two interceptions and 14 passes defensed. But behind all the celebration of Ball’s season lies a career that has shown a lot of inconsistency.
Now cue McCray.
He has been incredibly impressive this offseason. He’s been more physical, more focused and downright making plays. When given an opportunity, McCray has even made plays against the first-team offense, shutting down rookie Allen Robinson on a few occasions.
McCray still has a lot to learn. A seventh-round selection in the 2013 NFL draft, he will need to develop and stay focused. So far, all indications are that he’s committed to being a strong player, and that alone is going to earn him a starting spot this season.