JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars offensive line was a solid unit last year, but one that saw numerous changes this offseason.
Andrew Norwell and A.J. Cann, starting guards for the Jaguars since 2018 and 2015, respectively, signed with the Commanders and Texans. Brandon Linder, their starting center, also retired this offseason.
In March, Jacksonville signed Brandon Scherff to a three-year, $49.5 million contract. He spent his first seven seasons with Washington, where he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection.
The big question is who will the players next to Scherff be?
In terms of the additions and holdovers, they re-signed left tackle Cam Robinson and backup interior lineman Tyler Shatley. The Jaguars also drafted Kentucky center Luke Fortner.
Jacksonville took Fortner in the third round of the draft and he’s expected to take over for Linder. At Kentucky, he played in 55 career games with 36 consecutive starts. Fortner played right guard and center on the “Big Blue Wall” and was an essential component for the O-Line to be recognized for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line.
Kentucky earned that distinction four straight seasons, including as finalists in 2021.
Offensive line coach Phil Rauscher said his core nature is to run the wide zone.
“In this day and age, you must have multiple schemes in your run game. There’s a limited amount of runs you can get,” Rauscher said. “The guys we have here, however, really fit that wide-zone system and something we can execute this season.”
All Jaguars coaches were made available Thursday as the team wrapped up OTA’s this week.
Rauscher credits Bill Callahan for incorporating different schemes.
The two worked together in Washington, where Rauscher was the assistant and head offensive line coach. Callahan, now the offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns, served as the interim head coach during the 2019 season for the then-Redskins.
“When we were together in Washington, we incorporated multiple schemes, but the wide zone is one we always came back to,” Rauscher said.
In 2021, the Jaguars offensive line allowed 32 sacks, the ninth-fewest in the NFL. The Jaguars also rushed for 1,755 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Even with key pieces leaving among the offensive line, Rauscher believes the line will still perform at a top-level like a season ago.
“I have a good idea of our day one group, but training camp will be a great opportunity for guys to fight for a job,” Rauscher said. “Camp will allow us to find the best combinations among our guys.”
Another position of interest this season will be the right tackle, where Jawaan Taylor has started every game the last three seasons. Walker Little, a second-round selection in the 2021 NFL draft, played three games at left tackle in place of Robinson and played at a high level.
Between Taylor and Walker, Rauscher said the guy who doesn’t win the battle would likely be the swing tackle. However, Rauscher said if the combination plays out and one of them must move inside, they could do it.
“When we train [outside the center position], we cross-train all the guys to be able to do what needs to get done,” Rauscher said. “Guys are going to have to play different spots. If you’re one of the best five on the line, you’ll be in regardless of your spot.”
Ben Bartch is among the guys expected to push into those rotations on the line.
Drafted in 2020, he saw action in 13 games as a rookie on the offensive line, making one start.
Rauscher said Bartch had significantly benefited from this offseason. He said Bartch needed time to develop from his college game to the professionals.
“He can now put together what he’s learned and effectively block,” Rauscher said. “I’m thrilled where he’s at, and he’ll have every opportunity to have a shot to play.”
At this point in the offseason, players are beginning to get back to full speed. When teams put the pads on, coaches will look at where they want their key guys on the line.
Rauscher and the Jaguars will soon get their opportunity to see who can fit their offensive line.