Entering the season, many people speculated on the health and productivity of the Jaguars defensive line, especially the defensive ends. Through the first half of the season, those negative concerns seem to be proven justified, as the Jaguars passing defense is ranked 26th in the NFL, mainly because the team hasn't been able to generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Last Sunday was the team's worst performance to date, as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was able to stand in the pocket for as long as he wanted as he ran what was virtually a seven-on-seven drill. The Jaguars allowed a franchise record 539 yards of total offense to New Orleans.
Head coach Jack Del Rio described the defensive effort- "I think it was embarrassing to give up that kind of yards and that many points to anybody. It's not how good they are. I thought that was embarrassing. I took my share of blame yesterday and took it again today with the players. I said I've got to do a better job of preparing you, preparing the staff to go in there."
A few of the biggest question marks at the Jaguars defensive end position stemmed from the health of Reggie Hayward, the age of Paul Spicer, and the inexperience of Brent Hawkins and Kenny Pettway. Hayward hasn't been the same player since coming back from his ruptured Achilles, and doesn't seem to have anywhere near the explosion he had prior to the injury. Spicer has exceeded expectations, and is having a career year with six sacks, including a defensive player of the week award after his game against the Houston Texans in week six. As far as Hawkins and Pettway are concerned, at this point they're just guys, although Hawkins has 1.5 sacks on the season. Aside from Spicer, the Jaguars really haven't been able to affect the quarterback.
Jack Del Rio commented on the lack of pressure-
"Right now Paul Spicer is the one defensive lineman that has consistently generated pressure for us, and we're searching. Obviously you'd like to be able to get pressure out of your front four and not have to bring people out of your secondary in order to get there. We have not been very effective getting to the quarterback. We're going to need to pick that up to start the second half of this season."
The one defensive end on the Jaguars roster that wasn't really a concern entering the season was Bobby McCray. McCray is currently playing out the final year of his contract, after being a restricted free agent who was given a first-round tender. Many figured that McCray was a player on the rise, being just 26 years old, and coming off a 2006 season in which he recorded 10 sacks. The two years preceding, McCray combined for nine more sacks, while starting just eight games. The Jaguars were believed to have found a diamond in the rough with the seventh-round pick that they invested in McCray in 2004.
This year was supposed to be the season in which McCray elevated his game to elite status, especially being that he will become an unrestricted free agent once the year concludes. Instead of McCray's game elevating, it's completely fallen off. Through eight games, the former Florida Gator has five tackles and zero sacks. That's despite starting six of the eight games. McCray has been so much of a non-factor, that he hasn't even had a game this season in which he's had multiple tackles. McCray has transformed himself from one of the up and coming young pass rushers to a guy who can be handled easily by any tackle that lines up opposite him.
If the Jaguars are going to become the defensive team that everyone thought they would be, they're going to have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback, especially considering the lack of depth in the secondary. If McCray continues to be a non-factor, the Jaguars defensive rankings are likely to stay in the cellar of the league, and Bobby will feel it in his wallet when he and his agent (Drew Rosenhaus) are searching for new contract.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated
contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com.
Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for
the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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