Jaguars' Joe Schobert learns another new defense, keeps making plays

Change has been a constant during Joe Schobert's career, but that hasn't stopped him from being one of the more underrated defensive playmakers. David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- You can totally understand if one of the first things linebacker Joe Schobert thought after the Jacksonville Jaguars made a coaching change in January was, “Here we go again.”

It meant a new coordinator and defensive system for the fifth time in his six NFL seasons. Different duties, different concepts and, most importantly, different verbiage to absorb. He’ll have no problem absorbing it all, but it just would be nice to be able to spend an offseason fine-tuning instead of starting over.

“It’s just tough to learn the verbiage at first,” Schobert said. “You’re always going to associate things you did in the past and there’s always going to be a way that you thought you liked the best. But once you get through OTAs and mandatory minicamp and training camp, that’s three times we’ll have installed the whole playbook and everything going forward.

“It’s not too much of a concern, but every year it’s kind of a grind because there’s no coming back to being [like], ‘Oh yeah, we have the same playbook again this year.’ That would be nice, but I haven’t had it happen really yet.”

It did once -- his second and third seasons in Cleveland -- but the carousel of coordinators and systems hasn’t impacted Schobert’s ability to make plays. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Gregg Williams’ defense (which also was his first season as a starter), has had at least 103 tackles in each of the past four seasons, and has forced 16 turnovers in those four seasons.

In fact, he’s one of 14 players that have at least two interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles in consecutive seasons dating back to 1994, when forced fumble data began being kept. That list includes Hall of Famers Brian Dawkins, Ray Lewis and Charles Woodson and another player -- Julius Peppers -- who will become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2024.

Over the past two seasons Schobert has seven interceptions, 4.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles, including three interceptions, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first season with the Jaguars in 2020.

“As a linebacker, I think the interceptions are the hardest thing to come by, just getting underneath routes, being able to take advantage of quarterbacks when they make mistakes, because quarterbacks in the NFL don’t,” Schobert said. “But forced fumbles and sacks are a little bit easier for linebackers to attain and those are a lot more effort, a lot more hustle plays usually for a linebacker.

“Interceptions you have to know what you’re doing. You have to get into the passing lanes and take advantage of it when it comes.”

Schobert has played in a 4-3 since his second year in the league, but Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen uses a 3-4 so Schobert’s duties will be a little different as one of two inside linebackers. He played in a 3-4 as a rookie in 2016, so he’s not concerned how he fits.

“Once you get to a certain point, all NFL defenses are the same,” he said, again pointing to the verbiage as the biggest hurdle to overcome.

He’s said he’s been bugging Cullen and inside linebackers coach Charlie Strong for an actual hard copy of the playbook for him to take home, because that will help.

“I like to write notes in the playbook,” Schobert said. “I had an old coach that used to say just make a ‘same as’ sheet. You have [new] calls where you have the same responsibilities on these [old] calls. You kind of stack them all together and you can create this list and columns, so you know you have the same rules as this, same as that. That’s kind of how I go through it.

“There’s obviously a lot of different ways to write stuff down, going through notes, writing notes down, and going through highlighting stuff that’s important in your notebook. For me, a hard copy playbook and getting lists and categorizing them in terms of what your responsibility is something that helps me a lot.”

So far head coach Urban Meyer likes what he’s seen from Schobert.

“He’s one of the strongest guys on the team, powerful, he had a great offseason with our strength staff and he’s all-in,” Meyer said. “So, we’re anxious to see him have a good year.”

And then Schobert may finally have another offseason without having to learn a new system.