You may not know a lot of names on the Jaguars roster given their lack of national exposure or their dismal 14 wins since 2011. But with a number of additions this offseason, young guys turning the corner, and another year under coach Gus Bradley, you may hear a bit more buzz coming out of Jacksonville this season. Generating that buzz could be second-year players Telvin Smith and Brandon Linder. Let’s start with Telvin Smith.
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Despite his playmaking abilities and winning a National Title at Florida State, Smith slid all the way down to the 5th round in the 2014 draft in large part to his 220 pound frame, which is small for a player at his position at linebacker.
Yet general manager David Caldwell and the Jags got a steal in Telvin Smith as he finished his rookie campaign with 99 tackles, which was third among rookies. In addition, Smith was ranked second among rookies in tackles behind the line of scrimmage with nine.
Smith’s breakout game came against the Cleveland Browns in week 7, where Smith finished with a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble. That performance saw Smith earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Smith would also end the season with another sack, two forced fumbles, and a tip pass that resulted in an interception.
What’s crazy about these stats is that Smith didn’t see significant playing time until that week 7 game against the Cleveland Browns. Injuries thrusted Smith into the starting role and he never looked back.
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Smith will look to build on his overachieving rookie season going into 2015. Smith spent the majority of 2014 playing at 220 pounds. However, this offseason, Smith spent a lot of time in the weight room to add bulk, and to be able to withstand the rigorous nature of the linebacker position.
CBS Sports writer Pete Prisco also believes 2015 will be a breakout season for Telvin Smith and believes he is on the verge of stardom saying,
"He made a ton of plays as a 220-pound rookie. Now that he’s heavier — and just as fast — look for more big plays from this speedy linebacker. His ability to cover a lot of ground shows up on tape. With a better understanding of his assignments, he should be able to take it to the next level."
Now let’s take a look at Brandon Linder.
Though the guard position in the NFL is certainly not a flashy position, the play of rookie guard Linder caught the attention of the Jaguars and the NFL. Pro Football Focus (via Big Cat Country) ranked Linder as the sixth best guard in the league and fourth best when it comes to pass blocking. Linder would earn a 16.6 grade from PFF, which was highest on the team.
The Jags traded up in the 2014 draft to grab Linder out of the University of Miami.
Jun 17, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars guard Brandon Linder (65) during the first day of minicamp at Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Linder started 15 games his rookie season, just missing the Dallas game across the pond at Wembley Stadium.
The Jags gave up a league high 71 sacks in 2014 in large part due to inexperience and injuries along the offensive line. In spite of that, Brandon Linder was the most consistent.
“He’s a guy I think they all look to and can feel his leadership,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said to John Oesher of Jaguars.com. “I think he’ll be a really strong leader in that room for years to come. I think he’s learning it now, but just how he’s handled himself … I’m really, really pleased with his progress.”
Linder has focused this offseason on getting better. “I don’t look too far ahead, but it’s something where now that I’ve played a year, I do say, ‘I can do this,’” Linder said to Oesher.
“Now, the question is, ‘How do I get better? How do I strive to get better? How do I elevate my game?’ Of course at the beginning you’re wondering if you can play and wondering what’s going to happen and what it’s all about. It’s the unexpected.
“Now, I know what to expect and I know what I can do better, so I’m looking forward to that even more.”
The hiring of offensive line coach, and former Buffalo Bills head coach, Doug Marrone will be beneficial for the Jags o-line and Linder. Marrone is widely considered as one of the best o-line coaches in the league and could take Linder to that All-Pro level.
If Smith and Linder elevate their game like they are expected to in 2015, they could be looked at as viable pro-bowl candidates.
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