Can Donald Payne play with the same intensity this week for the Jacksonville Jaguars?
Payne did a solid job last Sunday in the 28-11 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leading the team with 13 tackles and had a quarterback sack. As the season comes down to the final four games, this is an audition of sorts for Payne, who is being asked to replace Myles Jack in the middle of the defense.
The Jaguars placed Jack on the injured reserve this week with a knee injury.
Could a strong showing here in Jacksonville lead to bigger things in 2020?
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"“I thought Donald went out last week and played well,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said on Thursday while meeting with the local media. “We knew this was a possibility. We’re very excited about how Donald played last week. Hopefully, he can add to it this week.”"
Adding to his performance would be a major help to this Jaguars defense that surrendered 200 yards rushing three weeks in a row prior to last week’s loss. Jacksonville gave up just 74 yards on the ground to the Buccaneers but did allow to rushing touchdowns.
It’s an improvement but still needs to be better.
It was a huge effort for Payne, who was also responsible for calling the plays in the middle of the field. Because there have been so many changes with injuries on defense, having Payne step in and help out was a real positive for this roster.
"“I thought Donald did a nice job,” Wash said. “He’s been taking reps with the second unit and communicating. Obviously, it was the first time he’s ever done it in a game. He got us in the right checks. The more and more he plays, the more and more we can put on his plate.“It’s a challenge for Donald, obviously, because he hasn’t done it, but we’re very encouraged by what we’ve seen last week out of Donald.”"
The Jaguars roster could look noticeably different next season. The front office could add more linebacker depth in free agency and through the NFL Draft. The game on Sunday is crucial for Payne and others potentially on the bubble to showcase what they can do to keep themselves on the inside looking out.
It’s something Payne is well aware of.
"“I didn’t think it was going to happen two months ago; I wasn’t on a team,” he said. “To be in this position is really a blessing. I have to thank God every day for putting me in this situation. Now, it’s my job to take advantage of it.”"