JagNation Training Camp Preview: LB

JagNation.com
Posted Jul 25, 2007


The Jaguars group of linebackers was the teams biggest question mark on defense just about a year ago. What a difference a year makes, as this years group is probably the fastest in team history, and may be one of the best units of linebackers in the entire NFL. Read more about the LB's HERE:

The Jaguars return "tackling machine" Mike Peterson from a torn pectoral injury that caused him to miss the final 11 games of the '06 season, as well as the very solid Daryl Smith. Playing opposite Smith will be last season's third round draft pick, Clint Ingram, who hits anything that moves. If that wasn't enough, the Jaguars drafted super-athlete, Justin Durant in the second-round, and those four make up what is likely to be the fastest group of linebackers to hit the NFL in quite some time. To go along with Peterson, Smith, Ingram, and Durant, are experienced veterans Nick Greisen and Tony Gilbert, along with more young linebacker speed, in Pat Thomas, Brian Iwuh, and Chad Nkang.


Mike Peterson
Mike Peterson has been the Jaguars best linebacker since signing with the team as a free agent prior to the 2003 season. Peterson is one of the best tacklers in the league, as he's topped the 100 tackle mark in each full season he's played.

Strengths:
Great instincts, great tackler, solid play-maker, fast guy.

Weaknesses:
Injury concerns, due to his torn pectoral in '06. He's also on the wrong side of 30.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Mike Peterson will come back with a vengeance in '07 and play at his usual Pro Bowl level. Worst case scenario is that '06's season ending injury was a sign of things to come and he never returns to his old form.


Daryl Smith
Daryl Smith has been a starter for the Jaguars ever since being selected in the second round of the '04 NFL draft. Smith had been solid, yet unspectacular until last season, when he took his game up another notch.

Strengths:
Fast, solid tackler, great instincts, good cover guy. Smith is also versatile enough to play on the outside or in the middle.

Weaknesses:
Not flashy, doesn't force a lot of fumbles.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Daryl Smith has improved each year that he's been in Jacksonville, and if he improves again, the Jaguars will have another Pro Bowl caliber talent playing on their defense. Worst case scenario is that Smith returns to the outside linebacker position, and it turns out that he was much better suited to play inside, as he did in college.


Clint Ingram
Clint Ingram was a third round pick from '06, that was forced into action when starting middle linebacker Mike Peterson went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Ingram filled in Daryl Smith's vacated outside linebacker position and responded by making plays and delivering big hits to opposing running backs, receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks.

Strengths:
Speed, power, play-maker, all around good cover guy. Ingram is one of the hardest hitters on the team, and opposing players need to keep their heads on a swivel when he's on the field.

Weaknesses:
Inexperienced. Ingram is susceptible to being caught out of position from time to time.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Ingram's arrow is clearly pointing up, and he is just learning the position at the NFL level. Playing along with Smith and Peterson, Ingram can have a huge impact in '07. Worst case scenario is that Ingram suffers some sort of injury and gets replaced by Justin Durant.


Justin Durant
Justin Durant was the Jaguars second round pick in this April's draft, and the entire coaching staff has fell in love with his speed and overall athleticism. Durant was the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year three times while at Hampton, and is expected to be Mike Peterson's successor in a few years.

Strengths:
Speed, instincts, lateral movement, overall play-maker

Weaknesses:
Size, shedding ability.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Durant was drafted to eventually replace Mike Peterson, and he could see a lot of game action in '07 if there is some kind of injury. Worst case scenario is that Durant watches most of the season from the sideline, or suffers some kind of injury.


Nick Greisen
Nick Greisen is a veteran outside linebacker that came to the Jaguars before the '06 season. Greisen started 10 games for the Jaguars in '06, posting moderate numbers.

Strengths:
Experienced, can cover tight ends

Weaknesses:
Not a great tackler, can't keep up with too many running backs out of the backfield. Best case/Worst case scenario: Greisen plays well in camp and makes the team. He should be a rotation guy at linebacker and special teams. Worst case scenario is that Greisen gets outplayed in camp and doesn't make the final roster.


Tony Gilbert
Tony Gilbert was signed by the Jaguars off the Arizona practice squad in '03 after being waived in final cuts with Arizona after being drafted in the sixth round of the '03 NFL draft out of Georgia. The Jaguars allocated him to NFL Europe in 2005 to the Rhein Fire.

Strengths:
Gilbert is experienced and can play special teams. Solid tackler

Weaknesses:
Gilbert isn't a play-maker, and doesn't do anything spectacular.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Gilbert plays well in camp and makes the team as a backup LB and special teams contributor. Worst case scenario is that Gilbert gets outplayed by younger, faster guys, and finds himself looking for work elsewhere.


Pat Thomas
Pat Thomas is a former sixth round pick in '05, and has missed a lot of playing time due to various injuries. The team likes his speed and hitting abilities, and if it wasn't for his injury, could've seen increased playing time in '06.

Strengths:
Speed, good hitter, special teams.

Weaknesses:
Doesn't cover particularly well, isn't sudden.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Thomas can win a roster spot with a strong preseason showing. Worst case scenario is that there is more competition than ever at linebacker, and Thomas might not be up to the task.


Brian Iwuh
Brian Iwuh is a former undrafted free agent rookie that made the Jaguars after being signed from their practice squad in '06. Iwuh was a fine middle linebacker at the University of Colorado, and is mostly a special teams contributor in the NFL.

Strengths:
Great hitter, fast guy.

Weaknesses:
Not disciplined enough, likely won't ever be a full-time starter.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Iwuh made the roster last year with everything stacked against him, with another year's experience, he may be in a better position to contribute. Worst case scenario is that the team has a minimal investment in Iwuh, and if he doesn't play better than a guy that was drafted, he'll likely be cut.


Chad Nkang
Chad Nkang was drafted by the Jaguars in the seventh round of this past April's NFL draft. Nkang is from small school Elon, and earned the Buck Buchanan award for the Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 (I-AA). Nkang is a strong guy with nice quickness and strength, and excels at run-stopping.

Strengths:
Quick, strong, plays well against the run, could also play safety in the NFL, likely will play special teams.

Weaknesses:
Size, pass-coverage, undisciplined.

Best case/Worst case scenarios:
Nkang's best case scenario is that he makes the team based on a great special teams contribution and finds himself some reps at either linebacker or safety. Worst case scenario is that Nkang isn't ready to play at this level and maybe makes the practice squad.


Although the Jaguars opening day starters at linebacker will likely be Mike Peterson, Daryl Smith, and Clint Ingram, assuming there are no injuries, this is a position in which there will be fierce competition for any remaining roster spots. Aside from the starters mentioned, as well as Justin Durant, nobody's spot is secure, and this should make for some exciting battles in training camp.



Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to various national news outlets. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association.



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LB Justin Durant (profile)
OLB Tony Gilbert (profile)
LB Nick Greisen (profile)
LB Clint Ingram (profile)
OLB Brian Iwuh (profile)
LB Chad Nkang (profile)
LB Mike Peterson (profile)
ILB Daryl Smith (profile)
OLB Patrick Thomas (profile)
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