“After struggling early on, [Kirk] Morrison played well in the middle, especially as a run defender. But by the looks of its draft class, it seems Jacksonville is building for tomorrow, which might make Morrison more valuable to another team. [Justin] Durant has plenty of ability, but he has been too inconsistent with the Jaguars. Still, if Jacksonville — or his next team for that matter — could improve Durant's coverage recognition and overall skills, he could be a heck of a linebacker. Bringing him back would make some sense for the Jaguars, even if only as a two-down player.”
It’s tough to argue against the Jaguars’ having the division’s worse unit.
Jacksonville’s defense finished 28th in the league in points allowed last year and a large part of that was due to poor play by the linebackers. With two starters not expected back, the position becomes the team’s biggest need once free agency gets going.
Sure, bad safety play behind the linebackers didn’t help matters, but what really compound’s the group’s struggles is that there were fairly high expectations for the unit in 2010.
Kirk Morrison was supposed to bring intensity at middle linebacker but he more or less was a letdown. There were high hopes for Justin Durant, but injuries kept him out of six games and his play hasn’t quite matched his talent level yet. The only player who really showed up at linebacker for the Jaguars last year was Daryl Smith. The strong side linebacker finished the season with 97 tackles and led the NFL in Defeats according to Football Outsiders.
For your information, defeats is the total of turnovers caused, causing a loss of yardage and stopping a conversion on third or fourth down.
Enough stat lingo, let’s get back to the topic at hand: Jacksonville’s mediocre linebackers.
Smith is locked up for a few more years while Durant and Morrison are free agents. It’s unlikely either will be back, although the Jaguars might take a shot at holding on to Durant a little longer to see if he pans out. If Morrison and Durant are indeed gone, and based on injuries/under performing, the probably will be, then the Jaguars will have to fill their void via free agency since they didn’t take a linebacker in the draft.
With that in mind, here are some perspective free agents that might fill Jacksonville’s needs to add a couple of impact players at the position:
Stephen Tulloch (Tennessee) – Is a free agent for the Titans and would be worthy of a sizeable contract. He’s a bit undersized (5-11, 240) but does a great job manning the middle. He could be a bit too pricey for the Jags.
Barrett Ruud (Tampa Bay)- Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris wants Ruud back, but Ruud doesn’t give you the feeling that he concurs. He’s a fairly versatile player that might get overpaid because he’s part of a pretty underwhelming class of linebackers.
Takeo Spikes (San Francisco) – The former star is now 34 but he could be a cheap, one-year patchwork type of guy. He’s likely to stick with the 49ers though.
Thomas Davis (Carolina) – Injuries have really hampered the former first-round pick, but if his knees still have a little cartilage left, he might be worth a look as a potential weak side ‘backer.
Rocky McIntosh (Washington) – Energetic playmaker probably won’t be back with the Redskins. More of a 4-3 linebacker.
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