The Jacksonville Jaguars improved their offensive line through free agency, added depth at tackle in the NFL Draft, but if the team is to continue to improve, center Brandon Linder will lead the way.
The Jacksonville Jaguars led the NFL in rushing last season with 141.1 yards per game, a testament to what head coach Doug Marrone and vice-president of football operations Tom Coughlin is doing to establish an identity with this franchise. The results were positive last year, with Leonard Fournette becoming only the second rookie running back in team history to rush for 1,000 yards (1,040) and limiting quarterback Blake Bortles to just 24 sacks on the season. Linder had a hand in that success.
Now, the team wants to continue what it did last year and make a solid unit a strength of this organizations. Linder, who signed a five-year contract extension is worth $51.7 million and includes $24 million in guaranteed money last offseason, will remain the man at the pivot and the straw that stirs the drink for the offensive line.
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The 6-foot-6, 315-pound center was drafted to play guard out of the University of Miami but made the transition to the middle in his second season. The Jaguars have had good centers in its history – Dave Widell and Brad Meester. Linder is carrying on that tradition.
So far, Linder has exceeded the team’s expectations for him, making the transition to playing well at one position (right guard) and moving over to excel in the middle.
According to Pro Football Focus, Linder was one of the best in the NFL once again by not allowing a single sack all season in 444 snaps. That is a tribute to the team’s commitment to stopping the pass rush up the middle. While there were some issues at both right and left guard last season, Linder held his ground.
While the offensive line has been an Achilles Heel of this franchise for many seasons, as a unit the signs are pointing upward. Pro Football Focus ranked the Jaguars line 15th in the NFL back in March. In the article, Linder was listed as the best player of the group from 2017. That could change with the addition of Norwell, who became the highest paid guard in the league.
"“Jacksonville’s offensive line had a lot of success in run-blocking as the 1.95 yards Jaguars running backs averaged before contact ranked second in the NFL last season,” Zoltan Buday wrote. “The unit was anchored by Brandon Linder, who has established himself as one of the best centers in the league over the past couple of seasons as he did not allow a single sack all year.”"
The Jaguars 2018 opponents know this is a run-first offense with Fournette a bell cow back who likes to run up the middle. Jacksonville may still have more eight-man fronts than any team in the league. Having Linder at center gives this team an edge.
Should Linder and his teammates continue to progress at run blocking and limit the number of sacks allowed this season, the Jaguars offensive line should be a top 10 unit in 2018. It all starts in the middle. As long as Linder remains one of the best at what he does, there is no reason to Jacksonville won’t be among the top rushing offenses once again.