Time for defense.
The media and fans outside of those knowledgable with the Jaguars seem to believe we are in dire need of a defensive end still. Many “draft experts” blasted us for not drafting defense this year — specifically defensive end. Many seem to just ignore last year where we took guys with the idea of improving our pass rush; that whole “well they haven’t done anything yet” idea. Which is nice, but there’s a time in everyone’s career where they haven’t done anything yet. Aaron Kampman was a 5th round pick and he is one of the best, well-rounded, defensive ends in the NFL. Oh yeah, and he plays for us. He is coming off of two straight seasons with an ACL tear, but he should honestly be good to go and remain a significant contributor. At the other starting defensive end spot, we may very well see another 5th round pick: Austen Lane. He looked good versus the run last year during his 9 starts, but was always just short on pass rushing. After working with Kampman in the off-season, he has gained weight and has become MORE explosive. He has completely dominated training camp and could be a starter. It should be interesting to see how he does in the pre-season game tomorrow night. What if he isn’t ready to start? Oh look… we have Jeremy Mincey. He had 5 sacks last year; 4 when he was starting. He performed well last year in place of Kampman. Regardless of who starts between him and Mincey, we should see both play a lot. There is even speculation that he will play inside in some situations this year. Behind them, we have a trifecta of potential pass rushers. Larry Hart, Aaron Morgan, and popular undrafted rookie Marc Schiecl. Hart showed up to camp overweight and has generally been meh so far, but he may get a pass as someone that had moderate success in very little playing time last year. Morgan has looked even more explosive this year in camp and has, at times, been unblockable. Schiecl has shown a lot and was productive in college (the defensive equivalent to Cecil Shorts III, in a way) and should make the roster based on potential alone.
At defensive tackle, I think it is well documented how good we are there, but it doesn’t exist without concern. Tyson Alualu played well last year as a rookie and has looked even better this year in camp. By all reports, it seems like he is ready and expected to explode this year. Terrance Knighton is already a beast when at adequate weight, but he has issues controlling his weight. He has not yet practiced since showing up to camp overweight again. Hopefully he gets it together as he can be an elite defensive tackle. Behind them, we have probable roster locks in D’Anthony Smith and C.J. Mosley. D’Anthony is supposed to be Alualu Lite and thus far has had a solid camp, especially for the injury he is recovering from. If he has lost explosiveness then we won’t really be able to tell. Mosley played well in limited playing time last year. Others to note are Leger Douzable, who played last year, and Andrew Lewis, an undrafted rookie who has shown some promise. I expect Douzable to not make the roster and I expect Lewis to be a potential practice squad guy. I think we roll with four defensive tackles with Mincey able to play end or tackle to be a technical fifth guy.
Daryl Smith will be the starter at strongside linebacker and is an elite 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL. Kirk Morrison (middle linebacker) and Justin Durant (weakside linebacker) exit and Paul Posluszny (middle linebacker) and Clint Session (weakside linebacker) enter. Both are upgrades and both have potential to become even better. Poz is already a great Mike, but I truly believe he has the potential to become a close-to-if-not elite player in the NFL. I do not really think Session can be an elite guy, but he can definitely make a significant impact — especially since he now has meat in front of him and is somewhere where he will actually be appreciated properly. Immediately, it looks like that, at least on paper, the Jaguars have the second best 4-3 linebacking group in the NFL behind the Panthers. Behind them, expect Russell Allen to return as a swing linebacker as he has proven to be a dependable player. After him, Gene Smith brought in a lot of undrafted guys (though that has dwindled down already due to cuts) to compete and there are body guys still signed over from last year. Alvin Bowen, Slade Norris, and Jacob Cutrera are all guys who could potentially make the roster and as far as the undrafted rookies go, it seems at this moment that Scott Lutrus seems to be near the front of the pack and could potentially make the roster. Out of those four guys, I think one will make the team and we will carry five linebackers. Keep in mind, there has also been speculation that Hart can play some linebacker — but then again, that could also just be speculation.
At cornerback, we have starters Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox returning. Both are overall good cornerbacks. Mathis is on the tail end of his career and Cox is just starting his; both picked up their play mid-season and continued to play strong, for the most part, for the rest of the season. Mathis is currently having his best camp in years and Cox has been on the side nursing an injury. I expect both to have good years, especially now that the safety position looks stonger — more on that in a moment. Behind them, we have brought in Drew Coleman, have drafted Rod Issac, and are brining back David Jones, William Middleton, and a cornerback/safety tweener in Don Carey. There are a couple others, such as Terrence Wheatley, but not really anyone I see being a factor. Coleman seems like a physical guy who can make some plays, but can also make some mistakes. If nothing else, he can be at least a solid nickel guy for us as Issac prepares to be the future at at least the nickel spot. Issac, extremely unknown before the draft, if quick and VERY physical. Middleton is a good special teams guy and he is my favorite to be the other guy to make the roster. I see us keeping Mathis, Cox, Coleman, Issac, and Middleton. I think Jones is cut as he lets up too many big plays and has no special teams value. Carey, at this point is more a safety than corner, so let’s head there.
I don’t see Carey making the team even though he started last year. He is supposedly already the 5th highest safety on the depth chart. Courtney Greene returns and he has shown some potential as a strong safety; something Carey never really showed at free safety. We also brought in Dawan Landry from the Ravens. Both guys seem to be strong safeties, which makes me believe that we will run more of a left-right system for most of this year than a true free-strong system. We will see though. An interesting factor is rookie Chris Prosinski who projects as a free safety. He has been nursing an injury, but he looked overall solid in camp and seems to have a lot of potential as a free safety. I expect to see him on the field in a free safety role with Landry sliding over to strong safety in clear passing situations. Just my speculation though. Michael Hamlin is also a factor as he returns and seems to be a guy that we like. I see Landry starting at “free safety” with Greene at strong safety with Prosinski being the primary back-up and Hamlin being the secondary back-up. As far as undrafted and “other” guys go, the only guy I see being a factor is Matt Estrada. He is also currently nursing an injury, but he seems to be a bit of a favorite and has looked promising in camp. He is a huge hitter too and could be a contributor on special teams immediately.
I originally wasn’t going to include this as I think it is pretty straight-forward and there isn’t much to be said, but I’ll go ahead and mention it as I feel it would be almost disrespectful not to; I’ll just keep it short. We had one of, if not the best, special teams units in the league last year and that should continue this year. Montell Owens and Kassim Osgood return and, as I’ve said, they’ve been two of, if not the two, best special teams specialists in the league for a while now. Behind them, we always seem to have good/solid guys behind them to help contribute. I fully expect William Middleton, for example, to make the team over David Jones & company due to being solid depth at corner and being a guy that can contribute to a high extent on special teams. At kicker, we will see Josh Scobee again, but it seems to be make or break for him this year. Matt Turk is probably going to be the guy at punter, which would concern me if we weren’t so good on special teams. Deji Karim will be the primary kick returner and he was solid last year. At punt returner, it seems to be unclear at the moment, but it’d be hard not to think of Scotty McGee as the favorite since he was drafted to be a return specialist. Cecil Shorts III should be the main back-up at both. I see Mike Thomas being worked out to prevent potential injury.