Jack is a big hit — lit­er­ally

The for­mer UCLA line­backer’s emer­gence is key for the Jaguars

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - SAM FARMER ON THE NFL

Myles Jack has found his happy place.

It’s with a foot­ball in his hands, of course, run­ning free with ev­ery­one in his wake.

That’s where the sec­ondyear Jack­sonville line­backer was two weeks ago, when he scooped up a loose ball against the New York Jets and ran it back 81 yards for a touch­down, turn­ing MetLife Sta­dium into the Metropoli­tan Li­brary.

“I just re­mem­ber it went quiet,” Jack said this week by phone. “That was prob­a­bly the most peace­ful mo­ment I’ve had in the last two or three years, when I had the ball those first two or three strides. It felt good.”

The Jaguars wound up los­ing that game 23-20, but Jack, the for­mer UCLA stand­out, re­minded the foot­ball world why he was con­sid­ered an elite tal­ent in the 2016 draft, one who slid into the sec­ond round based on con­cerns about the longterm health of his knee.

The Rams play at Jack­sonville on Sun­day, and they’ll be fac­ing a Jaguars de­fense that leads the NFL with 20 sacks and 15 take­aways. Jack­sonville, which like the Rams is 3-2, has a league-best turnover dif­fer­en­tial of plus-10.

The emer­gence of Jack is a big rea­son the Jaguars are hav­ing so much suc­cess on that side of the ball. He played strong-side line­backer as a rookie but was not part of the nickel pack­age, so he came off the field in pass­ing sit­u­a­tions.

He was moved to mid­dle line­backer dur­ing the off­sea­son, and started train­ing camp that way. But that was a lot to learn, and coaches even­tu­ally de­cided to keep sea­soned vet­eran Paul Posluszny there. So Jack is back on the strong side but moves to the mid­dle in the nickel pack­age.

That re­quires a player to be un­com­monly ver­sa­tile — to set the edge for the de­fense at the line of scrim­mage in run­ning sit­u­a­tions, tak­ing on big­ger tight ends, and then slide in­side in nickel where he’s of­ten matched against run­ning backs and re­ceivers.

He’s a Ford truck on one down; a Fer­rari on the next.

“It’s re­ally impressive that he’s able to do that,” Posluszny said. “It takes a unique skill set phys­i­cally, and a great un­der­stand­ing about the de­fense men­tally to do that. That tells you a lot about him.”

Need a re­minder of Jack’s ver­sa­til­ity? Do a YouTube search of his UCLA high­lights, where he’s blast­ing into ball­car­ri­ers, break­ing up or pick­ing off passes, then play­ing run­ning back and look­ing like a first-round prospect on of­fense. He’s a phys­i­cal freak.

“I’ve known him since he was 12,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora, who raised his kids in Belle­vue, Wash., where Jack was a high school star. “I’ve been con­vinced for­ever that he could have been a safety, a line­backer or a run­ning back and prob­a­bly could have been a first-round pick at any of those po­si­tions.”

Some NFL teams might have been tempted to draw up some gad­get plays us­ing Jack on of­fense, but the Jaguars want his laser fo­cus trained on learn­ing his line­backer spot. And that’s what Jack has done.

“He has taken this sec­ond year ex­tremely se­ri­ous,” said his mother, La Son­jia, who lives in At­lanta and is an ex­ec­u­tive at Cox Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “He’s the young man who’s at home, at his house, with ev­ery­thing laid out and plan­ning his next move. I’ll call to say, ‘Hey, how’s it go­ing?’ He goes, ‘Ev­ery­thing is great, Mom, but I’m study­ing my plays. I need to call you back.’ ”

Jack doesn’t al­ways have his nose in the play­book. He also plays the Mad­den video game for hours on end, typ­i­cally as­sum­ing the role of the team the Jaguars are play­ing next. [He said he sel­dom plays as him­self.] He was Ben Roeth­lis­berger last week, and Jack­sonville stunned the Steel­ers in Pitts­burgh 30-9, so he planned to switch to the Rams this week.

“If I’m play­ing video games I look at it as, I re­ally should be study­ing but I am kind of study­ing in a way,” he said. “I’ll be Jared Goff this week, and Todd Gur­ley, and Tavon [Austin].”

Goff and Jack faced each other twice when the quar­ter­back was at Cal­i­for­nia, with UCLA win­ning both times.

“Very cool guy, and from what I re­mem­ber very ac­cu­rate,” Jack said. “He used to throw the ball at Cal like 70 times a game, so he’s been a gun­slinger. He was al­ways bring­ing them back, putting the ball in places that our DBs couldn’t get to.”

Jack­sonville de­fend­ers are get­ting to a lot of foot­balls th­ese days, and, as he showed on his fum­ble re­turn, Jack can be plenty elu­sive when he wants to be.

“Some­times you see de­fend­ers, es­pe­cially on a long run, you can say, ‘OK, I know that’s why you play de­fense,’ ” Posluszny said. “But with him, it was so nat­u­ral. The way he held the ball, the an­gle he took to the end zone, the speed that he had. He was able to peek back and see if any­body was able to catch him. It looked so smooth.”

For Jack, it felt even bet­ter than that.

“It was kind of like a sur­real mo­ment where ev­ery­thing just felt right,” he said. “I picked it up and I didn’t hear any­thing. All I could see was just field. I was locked in, tun­nel vi­sion. I couldn’t re­ally see too much. I just re­mem­ber be­ing in the mo­ment. It was kind of an out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence, know­ing I was go­ing to score a touch­down and put our team back in the game.”

La Son­jia Jack said she had a strong feel­ing an in­stant be­fore that turnover that her son was about to make a big play.

“I can tell from the field with his body lan­guage when he’s on fire,” she said. “His head gets to bob­bin’, and I see him tighten up his gloves, and then I know it’s on. I know, some­body bet­ter watch out, he’s on fire.”

Amaz­ing in­stincts. Like mother, like son.

sam.farmer@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATimes­farmer Times staff writer Gary Klein con­trib­uted to this re­port.

‘I’ve been con­vinced for­ever that he could have been a safety, a line­backer or a run­ning back.’ Jim Mora, UCLA coach, on Myles Jack

Stephen B. Mor­ton As­so­ci­ated Press

MYLES JACK usu­ally plays strong-side line­backer but moves to the mid­dle in the nickel pack­age.

Ben Hoskins Getty Im­ages

MYLES JACK of Jack­sonville tack­les In­di­anapo­lis’ Frank Gore dur­ing a game in Lon­don on Oct. 2.

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