After the Jacksonville Jaguars completed their second consecutive last-place finish in the AFC South, the front office knew that the defensive personnel was simply not good enough to contend in one of the toughest divisions in football. Jacksonville had one of the worst passing defenses in the league, and they spent all offseason trying to correct the problem.
It’s no secret that the Jaguars didn’t have much of a pass rush last year, and the theory is well supported by their dead-last ranking in sacks with just 14. If a front four or front seven isn’t getting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, even the best secondaries in football will struggle mightily.
“I believe basically the D-line is pretty much the secondaries best friend and if we get pressure, we have skilled guys back there (in the secondary),” Jaguars safety Gerald Alexander said.
The Jaguars have dedicated their offseason to trying to alleviate their lack of a pass rush as they signed former Green Bay “sackmaster” Aaron Kampman, and dedicated almost their entire draft to the defensive line. They selected defensive tackles Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith, and defensive ends Larry Hart and Austin Lane with their first four selections. Combine that with another year of seasoning from former first-round pick Derrick Harvey, and the return of Reggie Hayward and the team and fans should have increased optimism about this unit making some opposing quarterbacks jerseys a little dirty.
The teams biggest free agent signing, Aaron Kampman tore his ACL late last season and is working unbelievably hard to try and get back into action as soon as possible.
“His body is unbelievable,” Jaguars cornerback Scott Starks said about Kampman being much further along than expected, despite having ACL surgery in December.
“He’s really ahead of schedule but we don’t want to allow him to go beyond the schedule because we think it’s the right thing to do,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio explained.
With all the changes in the front seven, the Jaguars surprisingly didn’t add much in the secondary. It would appear as if the front office believes that the secondary has enough talent to compete, provided the pass rush is improved.
“The public may not know it but we have skilled guys back there that can make a lot of plays, and if we can get pressure on the quarterback and get him off the spot, it’s going to reflect on our entire defense,” Gerald Alexander, who’s fighting for a starting job told reporters.
One of the most naturally talented players on the team is safety and former first-round pick Reggie Nelson. Following a solid rookie campaign, Nelson regressed and took poor angles and showed a lack of toughness often times during last season. Now with his job and career on the line this summer, Nelson has an improved work ethic which the team hopes to see on the field.
So far so good according to head coach Jack Del Rio.
“I think Reggie’s had a real nice spring,” Del Rio assessed. He’s more dedicated to his craft than he’s ever been….He’s doing the things that he needs to do to give himself a chance to be a real player for us and that’s what we need.”
Although the team is less than enamored with longtime Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis’ choice to skip voluntary OTA’s, Mathis’ absence is giving others a chance to shine.
“It’s a lot of guys getting chances,” cornerback Scott Starks, one of those particular guys stated. “I’m very anxious for him to get back, but while he’s out we have to get better and keep moving on.”
Starks, along with a youngster by the name of Don Carey, are getting more reps which can only help the inexperienced guys. Last season’s third-round pick Derek Cox started all 16 games a year ago and had his fair share of highs and low’s, but he expects things to get better this fall. Cox has lined up on the left side with the absence of Mathis.
“I always played the left side early on in college,’ the second-year corner from William and Mary said.
Even though the Jaguars have installed a lot of new defensive strategies already, Cox feels much more comfortable with everything as he’s no longer a rookie.
“I’m looking at the rookies now and I know exactly what they’re going through,” Cox explained. “When you come into minicamp, they’re throwing everything at you.”
The Jaguars felt confident enough in their secondary to not make any major changes, and for the team to get better in 2010 the play of the corners and especially the safeties must improve.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Scott Starks admitted. “Once the season comes we will have everything where the coaches want it to be and where we need it to be.”
For the Jaguars coaching staff to remain employed past January it needs to be.