The Jacksonville Jaguars acquired offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland from the Minnesota Vikings at the trade deadline deadline. Although Cleveland has starting experience and is a viable option at left guard, the Jags are sticking with Walker Little in hopes of providing stability and continuity up front.
Head coach Doug Pederson told the local media the team's rolling with Little, not Cleveland, at left guard, believing that having the same group together longer will help them play more efficiently.
"Walker hasn't had much time there. We have a lot of confidence in Walker," Pederson said. "He'll bounce back back and respond. We do want to get Ezra some snaps, and see where he's at mentally with the offense."
Pederson continued, "They haven't played together for a length of time I think there's a lot of moving pieces there. Anton continues to improve each week. I said the other day I thought he had one of his better performances against a really good front. Luke and Brandon are the staples there. Cam is Cam and then that left guard spot is been a little bit of a revolving door right now. So there's some uneasiness there but these guys the more they play together, the more comfortable and confident they'll be in these next eight games."
Little's natural position is left tackle, where he made four starts, filling in for Cam Robinson, to start the season. He moved to guard once Robinson returned from a suspension he served. Knowing left guard was the weakest link, and wanting to have the best five up front, the coaching staff moved Little there in Week 5.
Unfortunately, Little's first start at left guard didn't go the way the team envisioned. He suffered an MCL and missed the next four games. He returned against the Niners but struggled. This led to speculation that Ezra Cleveland — he appeared in 53 games with 49 starts at Minnesota — could get the nod in Week 11. However, the coaching staff doesn't seem to be willing to make yet another move on the offensive line, having already tried several combinations out this season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are betting on Walker Little's upside at left guard
The offensive line has been an area of weakness throughout the year, ranking near the cellar in both pass and run blocking win rate. This was particualrly evident against the 49ers. The group had no answers for the pass rush duo of Nick Bosa and Chase Young. Trevor Lawrence has helped mask some of the issues by getting rid of the ball quickly but the group's inability to block has prevented the coaching staff from dialing up more deep routes.
By keeping Walker Little at left guard, the Jaguars expect to build consistency up front. The fact that has barely played the position but has excelled on the edge is a reason for optimism. That said, Ezra Cleveland is no slouch.
Before suffering a foot sprain, Cleveland had only allowed one sack this season. While he offers depth at both guard positions, having played on the right side as a rookie, Jacksonville should plug him in at left guard if Little falters.
Looking back, the Jacksonville Jaguars should've made bolstered the offensive line in the offseason. Now, they'll have to wait until next year to make upgrades. For the time being, they'll need to find the best combination.