“The question isn’t whether he’s going to play or not but when. It’s just a question of when his time is going to be. He’s going to be a great player. He’s definitely got the tools and the mind-set. He’s a great guy,” McClendon said.
The Jaguars traded up in the third round to take Linder to be their right guard of the future after Uche Nwaneri was released in March.
Linder wasn’t simply handled the job. He’s in a friendly competition with McClendon, who originally entered the league in 2010 as a fourth-round pick of the Colts.
The Jaguars are McClendon’s fifth team, although he’s played in only nine NFL regular-season games and spent a lot of time on practice squads.
The players are in a close competition that coach Gus Bradley said won’t be decided until training camp.
“It will be an intriguing competition,” he said.
When Bradley was asked if McClendon has the edge because he’s got more experience, Bradley said, “I would say that’s to his advantage with his experience, but I wouldn’t say one of them has the edge over the other.”
McClendon is mentoring Linder even as they fighting for the same starting job.
“My job is to be somebody he can look up to and ask questions to,” McClendon said. “My job is to help this team win in every way possible. If that’s as a starter, it’s as a starter. If that’s as a backup, it’s as a backup. If you think about what is going on behind the scenes or upstairs, you kind of get out of your game.”
Linder comes in with a good resume. He was a four-year starter at the University of Miami, starting 42 games, 37 of them at right guard. He also played for current Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch for two years and is familiar with the offense and the zone-blocking scheme.
Linder is a 6-5, 311-pounder. McClendon is 6-3 and 324.
Bradley said McClendon is good at the gap scheme because of his mass, and Linder has the athleticism for the zone schemes.
Linder said he’s not thinking about a battle for the starting job.
“For me, it’s just about trying to get better every day and do my best and kind of watching what the vets do,” Linder said.
Linder said McClendon has been helping him adjust to the pros.
“He’s helping me with the plays and my technique and showing me how it’s done with him being a veteran,” Linder said.
Center Mike Brewster, who plays alongside the right guard, said he’s only worked with McClendon so far because McClendon has been getting the snaps wit the first unit.
“I haven’t had a chance to play next to Linder, but it seems like he’s coming along really well and knows his stuff. Jacques is really reliable, a great guy and a great teammate. And he’s getting a chance to focus on the guard spot instead of flipping back between guard and center. And he’s helping to bring him [Linder] along, which says a lot about Jacques,” Brewster said.
McClendon grew up in Tennessee playing basketball until the eighth or ninth grade before he started playing football because of his size. After his sophomore year, when he started getting interest from the colleges, he dropped basketball and played football full time.
He decided to play at the University of Tennessee because it was a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Cleveland, Tenn. At Tennessee, he started 26 of 49 games at right guard, including 13 as a senior.
The Colts drafted him in the fourth round and cut him, and he started the long trek to the Jaguars. He played in four games as a rookie and was waived at the end of the 2011 camp. Detroit claimed him and waived him a month later and put him on the practice squad. He was waived by the Lions at the end of camp in 2012 and spent a couple of weeks on Pittsburgh’s practice squad before he was waived. The Falcons signed him to their practice squad. That’s where Jaguars general manager David Caldwell got to know him. And when the Falcons waived McClendon, the Jaguars claimed him. He played in five games and started two.
“He’s a very, very hard worker, and he’s very intelligent. He’s got good strength and very good initial quickness. He’s a pro, and he’s getting better,” Caldwell said.
Despite all the bouncing around, McClendon has nothing but positive things to say about his career.
“It’s given me a lot of things people wish they had. I’m living a dream, and I’m very thankful for it,” he said.
McClendon loves playing for the Jaguars.
“It’s an awesome place, and we’re all blessed to be in this locker room just because there aren’t many locker rooms like this,” he said.
That probably explains why McClendon’s emphasis isn’t on starting but staying on the team.
“What I want to do every day is make sure I’m good enough to stay in the locker room,” he said. “So I’ll just stay on top of my p’s and q’s and attack every day as a new day and give it my best.”