With veteran Swiss Army knife linebacker Lerentee McCray ruled out for Sunday's matchup against the New York Jets, two Jaguars rookies are expected to fill-in for the several roles he plays on defense and special teams.
Third-round defensive end Dawuane Smoot will handle the pass rushing responsibilities. Fifth-round pick Blair Brown will serve as a backup linebacker and play at McCray's spots on special teams.
While both are inexperienced at those positions, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has quite a bit of praise for the young players. He said he is confident that both can fill the void left by McCray, who suffered a knee injury in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans.
Smoot has played in all three of the Jaguars' regular season games. He has been used as a rotational defensive end and has forced a few pressures, including one that led to an interception for Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson in Week 1.
Marrone has noticed Smoot's talent in practice and in games. The Jaguars' head coach said the rookie has shown ability and work ethic on the level of an NFL veteran.
"I think that Smoot has been - I don't want to say a pleasant surprise because we really liked him coming out [of college] - but I think he's done a lot of good things for a young football player," Marrone said Friday.
"He doesn't seem to play like a young player. He loves the game, he gives good effort, he's a student of the game, he's a very smart kid and I see him getting better and better each practice and then going out and playing for us. His snaps have increased."
Unlike Smoot, Brown took some time to get on the field. He was a healthy scratch during the Jaguars' first two regular season games.
The rookie linebacker made his NFL regular season debut last week in the blowout win over the Baltimore Ravens. His play stood out to Marrone, who endorsed the rookie's work in London.
"Obviously, Blair has a great opportunity," Marrone said. "I thought he went in the game last week, we got him in there, and there [were] some good things. He made some tackles, was able to react, was able to run and do some things."
The pair of draft picks will get to further their involvement against the Jets. Marrone has seen positive signs from both players, but there is still some more development to be done on their end.
"It's just a point of those young players to just keep getting them reps," Marrone said. "But you can see the athleticism, see the quality in them and what our scouting staff saw in them when we drafted them and they can obviously help us."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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