NFL coaches like versatility.
The more positions a player can play, the more advantageous he is for the depth chart on game day.
Many players are cross-trained at multiple positions. Those players allow teams to play a more favorable numbers game with roster cutdowns.
Young players are typically molded to play as many spots as possible. However, the results aren't always reassuring.
Last offseason, Jaguars then-rookie linebacker Myles Jack was forced to learn middle and weak-side responsibilities. He was then moved to the strong side in the middle of his rookie season.
He never found a comfort level; his play was impacted by the constant shuffling.
The Jaguars won't make the same mistake with rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook this offseason.
"I think, early on, my philosophy has always been you have to be very careful with young players because you want to build a foundation for them where they’re able to contribute for you," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said.
"I think if you take a young player and you try to dual-train him or teach him two positions or you think in the long run that you’re going to be able to help get that player on the field faster, maybe because you don’t feel comfortable about those two positions, but early on in his career he’s not really going to play either of them well enough for you to feel really good about putting him out there. I’d rather make a decision of where to put him, get the foundation, see how he picks that up, and then, once he’s good at that, really start moving him.”
Westbrook played exclusively on the outside at Oklahoma. The Jaguars have talked about moving him into the slot as a rookie.
Westbrook caught 80 receptions for 1,524 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last season. The Jaguars view him as a speed threat who can make plays after the catch.
However, he still needs to learn the ins and outs of the wide receiver position before he can make any plays.
"I think, right now, the way we’re teaching him is we’re going to teach him outside first," Marrone said.
"That’s the way we’re going to start it. We’re going to put him on the outside first because he only played on the one side. He’s played on one side so there’s a lot more learning to what Westbrook has to go through than maybe the others players that are here and part of the [90-man roster]. We’re getting him used to just playing both outside spots. Let’s see where that goes first and then see what to do."
Marrone has a lot to consider before the Jaguars move Westbrook into the slot receiver role. The head coach has plenty of options with a deep wide receiver depth chart.
Westbrook needs to check off a few boxes on Marrone's criteria list before exploring his versatility in a game setting.
“I think a lot of it depends on how the OTAs go," Marrone said.
"In other words, a) can he play out there? Well, there are a couple of things that go on offensively that you have to think about. I’m just going to give you an insight to how I look at receivers. Let’s take slot out of it for a minute. A) is he better on the ball, like a split-end receiver? Or is he better off the football? Speed comes into it. Sometimes, guys don’t get pressed because they have so much speed. Maybe the defenders are nervous. But no one is ever nervous of a rookie. If he can get off of press coverage and someone is going to press him up, that’s great. That helps. That’s good. You have to be strong. You have that good technique to get off of it. If he’s not that good at press coverage, then maybe you play him to the tight end side where he’s off the ball. Now, there’s a little bit more room where he can use that speed and go.
Clearly, the fourth-round pick will have to show improvement early on in the offseason program.
Rookie minicamp is over and he has impressed first-round pick Leonard Fournette.
The rookie pair plans to stick around in Jacksonville in between organized team activity sessions to really study the playbook.
That extra preparation should help Westbrook with understanding all the different aspects of the position. Once he has those down, the Jaguars can start to take advantage of his talent.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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