When Jack Del Rio first came to the Jaguars’ organization in 2003, he put an instant emphasis on run defense. With defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud clogging the middle, Jacksonville became one of the elite run-stopping teams in the NFL, but then age and injuries took their toll.
The team parted ways with the declining Stroud before last season and Henderson missed two games due to injury last year. Although Jacksonville’s run defense didn’t completely fall off the map (it ranked 13th in the league,) it certainly didn’t have the swagger that Jaguars’ fans have become accustomed to. How do the Jaguars intend to beef up their run defense again? A simple answer might be to just get bigger.
Losing Stroud hurt a little and Henderson has not been himself over the last several seasons, but the depth at the tackle position was sub-par as well. Rob Meier, a career role player, had found his niche in Jacksonville as an excellent change-of-pace player, but he struggled when he was inserted into the starting rotation last year.
“I think maybe too much was expected,” said Del Rio. “I think Rob is a terrific role player.”
Del Rio loves Meier’s toughness, which is second to none, and he feels that the 10-year veteran might be better suited play 30 snaps a game, as opposed to 50. With that in mind, what will the Jaguars do to assist Henderson in the middle?
Right now, the team has three players that all have a chance to start next to “Big John,” or at the very least, come in and contribute in spurts.
“I think it’s open and I think there are some good candidates there,” said Del Rio. “I think Atiyyah Ellison has looked good. I think Terrance Knighton has looked good. They’re all going to get a chance to compete with Rob (Meier) and with John (Henderson).”
The Jaguars will look to combine aspects of their base 4-3 defense and the 3-4 this year, so different players may fit in at better junctures in the game. In the 4-3, former fifth-round selection Derek Landri might receive more looks after he added 15 lbs. on to his frame.
“You can’t tell for sure in the trenches until you get the pads on, but Derek’s done a real nice job of adding some weight, some good weight, and we’re going to see how that translates into play,” added Del Rio. “I think it will give him an opportunity to be in the mix for more of an every-down role as opposed to kind of a specialist. I know that’s what he really has in his heart; it’s what he’d like to see.”
The biggest knock on Landri coming out of the draft in 2007 was that he lacked bulk, but after adding some solid weight, he could make a run for the starting job.
Two other players who should really make an impact in the run game are Terrance Knighton and Atiyyah Ellison. Both are big, as they each tip the scale at about 320 lbs., and look like solid two-down players in the 4-3. However, both might get a look at nose tackle when the team runs the 3-4.
Del Rio has been pleased with both players this offseason and think they both can help the team get back on track in terms of run defense. The head coach said that depth has been a problem at the position over the past two years. While the team may not have a tandem as feared as Henderson and Stroud, it might have enough depth and versatility at tackle to help the defense re-emerge as an elite run-stopping group.