Coach Del Rio (Phil Coale/AP)
A change in personnel, if not philosophy, is necessary. The results of a disappointing season caused the team not to explore bringing back “free agent” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now in New Orleans), and ultimately the hiring of Mel Tucker. Tucker came from Cleveland, where he instilled a 3-4 defense, something that it appears the Jaguars will be implementing.
With the Jaguars finishing the 2008 season 17th overall in defense, and 24th overall in pass defense, something had to change.
"We have, over the years, used '30' looks in sub,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We could do some of that in base as well.”
Del Rio refused to go into detail about how often his teams would be in the 3-4.
“Percentages, I'm not going to get into percentages, but we're going to look at it,” Del Rio told reporters at the NFL Owner’s Meetings in Dana Point, CA. “There are some things within those fronts that we think could be attractive to us, that we may end up liking. We're not going to deviate too far away from what we've been -- primarily a four-man front."
The biggest obstacle with making a legitimate 3-4 switch for a formerly 4-3 team is certainly personnel. The Jaguars don’t have a legitimate starting nose tackle and unless they were to draft Boston College’s B.J. Raji with their first-round pick, they likely won’t find one prior to the start of training camp.
"We don't have the big D-line that's going to sit in a 3-4 all day,” Del Rio explained. “I think you've got to have those three big lunks down inside that could just kind of hold up and let the other guys do their thing. So we're not going to go to it wholesale. I just think there are some opportunities to give people different looks to do a few things to change up how they prepare for us."
The Jaguars, along with many other teams are implementing the 3-4 philosophy because of the surprise factor and difficulties it can cause blocking schemes. Last season’s Super Bowl champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers employ the 3-4, as did their AFC title game opponent Baltimore Ravens. Those two teams finished as the top two defenses in the NFL. The NFL is a copycat league and teams will try to emulate whoever is having success.
"It's cyclical. There are a lot of things that being in that odd front allow you to do in the
passing game, versus teams that want to spread you open and do things.
So there are some things we're looking at," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars finished 20th in the NFL a year ago in sacks (29), despite giving new deals to two of their defensive linemen, both of which are no longer members of the team, and spending their entire first day of the draft on upgrading their pass rush. Only one team that was in the bottom half of the league in sacks finished with a winning record and that was the team’s division rival Indianapolis Colts, who finished 16th (30 sacks). Still, scheme alone won’t fix the team’s pass rushing problems.
"I think you're constantly growing in this sport,” Del Rio said. “You examine your own talent base, examine the things that you know that are in your past, or people you have on your staff, in their past, and you look for ways to utilize the talent that you have. In some cases, if you're set on doing a certain system, then you've got to make sure you add those kinds of players."
One player who could greatly benefit from a move to the 3-4 is last year’s second-round pick Quentin Groves. Groves flashed from time to time as a rookie in pass rushing situations, but still only ended up with 2.5 sacks. He struggled with his hand on the ground as he was pushed around and took bad angles while attempting to stop the run. A 3-4 scheme could allow Groves to rush from different positions as well as hide him a bit in the run game.
"He's clearly a guy,” Del Rio said of Groves. “He'd be suited for some of that activity."
Any thoughts of the Jaguars making a 3-4 switch prior to now seemed preposterous, as Jack Del Rio has always ran 4-3 defenses. Del Rio doesn’t believe that the change will be all that difficult.
"Rex Ryan is a tried-and-true 4-3 guy,” the Jaguars head coach cited as an example. “When I was in Baltimore, they were a 4- 3. They transferred to a 3-4. It wasn’t like any difficult endeavor. They've been able to morph in and out of it. So there's that possibility, where you can do things that come out of those looks. It's just a matter of one guy. One guy is down or up. It creates some things for the offense. It maybe gives you something to write about or talk about. Fundamentally, it's not a whole lot different. You're going to have four guys in the back end, seven guys in the front. It's just a matter of one guy being up or down."
The switch to a 3-4 defense will likely come with some mis-fits, as the team learns the new scheme and develops the necessary personnel. Still, Jack Del Rio and the Jaguars are trying to fix a defense that desperately needs fixing, and that’s all anyone can ask for.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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