A mid-week injury to a starting offensive lineman forced the Jaguars' coaching staff to improvise in Week 9.
Right guard A.J. Cann suffered a triceps injury Thursday and failed to play against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday. The coaching staff was forced make an adjustment to the line, but not in a way most would have expected.
Instead of having Brandon Linder return to his starting center role after missing three games with an illness, the coaching staff decided to move him to right guard in place of Cann. Linder was the Jaguars' starting right guard during his first two NFL seasons. He has been the team's starting center since last year.
Backup lineman Tyler Shatley had started at center in place of Linder during his absence from the lineup. Shatley had fared well through three games and the coaching staff decided to keep him in the middle against the Bengals.
Moving Linder to right guard turned out to be a wise choice for Jacksonville.
“Well, judging by the score, it worked out well and the production of the offense I think that it’s the same thing, and we’ve said this before, we’re just trying to get the best five out there," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. "I know we’ve said that philosophy and I really believed that that was our best five to put out there at the time."
While the results were ideal, the circumstances leading up to Sunday's win over the Bengals were not.
Mid-week injuries are unfortunate for any position, but on the offensive line - a unit built on cohesion - it can be a serious detriment.
The Jaguars benefited from Linder's versatility.
"I thought what was difficult was the way it occurred with A.J. [Cann] getting hurt late in the week for Brandon, but he had a heck of a game, really played well," Marrone said. "He’s overall an outstanding football player on the offensive line. I’ve said before Brandon has played well at guard, has played well at center, I’m sure he can probably play well at tackle. I really believe that."
Linder signed a five-year, $51.7 million deal in July. Considered by some to be the team's best offensive lineman, Linder's ability to step into the right guard role at the last minute offered a glimpse at his importance to the lineup.
While he has missed 19 games during his career, he has been a dependable cog on the line when healthy.
Against the Bengals, he was not just a body on the line. He was a standout, opening up running lanes and shielding quarterback Blake Bortles from harm.
"He stepped up for us, which was big," Marrone said. "Playing against Cincinnati, they had a lot of line movement, a lot of schemes and things like that on the inside. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get used to that when you switch positions, especially one where you’re level one, meaning you’re the center, you’re right there where the ball is and all of a sudden you’re at a different level and you’re working different combinations off the football."
Shatley also played well against the Bengals. The Jaguars had a productive day on offense, even without Cann.
If the starting right guard isn't available for the Week 10 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Jaguars may continue to use Shatley at center and Linder at right guard.
“Well, I think we already showed our hand," Marrone said. "If you guys said, ‘Is A.J. going to play or not, who’s going to play in his place?’ I think I am going to wait to see to get more information because then I’ll start looking at matchups and what’s going on with that to see who the best five are, not from a football standpoint but then matchup standpoint, too, comes into play."
If Cann can't play, the Jaguars will get a week to prepare for the possibility. Marrone said he will be cognizant of the matchups up front with the Chargers' defense. Those matchups will determine who starts and where they will play in Week 10.
"That came into play with Brandon moving [to right guard and] going against Geno Atkins there," Marrone said. "So I think there’s a lot of practice that goes into it. If we had to do [the same lineup], I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.