Remember when the Jaguars were one of the most feared defenses in the league?
Remember when, in 2007, commentators everywhere were saying that nobody wanted to face the Jaguars in the playoffs?
Remember when Reggie Nelson was the hottest rookie in the defensive side of the ball and a threat at safety?
Reggie Nelson once a force Source: Yardbarker
Remember when you had faith that an opponent’s last chance drive would end in an interception, fumble, or some brilliantly defensed pass?
I do. And I think those days are back upon us, Reggie Nelson and all.
Back in 2007, and the early years of Jack Del Rio’s tenure, the Jaguars had a defense that other teams envied. In 2007, the Jaguars had a +9 turnover ratio, the defensive backs were well respected, and sacks came far more frequently than they did in 2009. The defense as a whole back in 2007 was very good, I would even argue an elite defense. There are many reasons, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud anchored the middle of the line, Mike Peterson dominated the middle of the field, Rashean Mathis was on his game, Reggie Nelson was a force to be reckoned with, Sammy Knight played better than anybody anticipated, Daryl Smith emerged as a solid linebacker, all of these things combined to make the play for the secondary even better.
But since then the defense has been shaken up. John Henderson is gone, Marcus Stroud has been gone for a while, Mike Peterson is no longer here, Rashean Mathis has been injured, Reggie Nelson appears to have peaked during his rookie season, Sammy Knight has almost entirely vanished from football, and Daryl Smith is just now being moved back to the outside. And yet despite this, I see the potential for dominance yet again by the Jaguars defense. (After the jump, we will explore it!)
Marcus Stroud and John Henderson have been replaced by capable defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, a rookie that has only been criticized for being picked a few slots too early (which isn’t a slight against the player at all), a proven defensive play maker in Kirk Morrison has been added where Mike Peterson used to be, and Daryl Smith is back at home as an outside linebacker, where he belongs. The defensive ends have been vastly upgraded from the last few years with Aaron Kampman, Larry Hart, and Austen Lane. Sure the rookies haven’t been tested, but they have huge potential upside to them. And because of these solid moves in the front seven, I have faith in the Jaguars secondary.
The Jaguars have never, with the exception of Rashean Mathis, had an elite defensive back playing for them. But despite this, the Jaguars secondary has generated solid play and many turnovers, when the front seven plays well. Mathis is back again to anchor one side of the field, Derek Cox is emerging as a solid corner, and I believe that with the improved play by the front seven, Reggie Nelson will reemerge as a dominant force.
In 2007, Nelson was fourth on the team in tackles, generated five picks, defensed 11 passes, and forced two fumbles. That is very good play. And by a rookie too! The Jaguars picked him up because he was listed as a “very explosive safety” and “very hard hitter” in the draft reports. But alas, he has now been reduced to pushing people out of bounds. I think that he can return to his full potential yet again. This year. Because his job becomes tremendously easier with better play from the front seven. Which he will, I expect, be getting this year. And with the increased play of Mathis, Cox, Nelson, and the front seven, whoever fills in the strong safety spot will probably have a rather solid year.
Am I dreaming? Perhaps. But I remember a time when a dominant Jaguars defense was a reality. I remember when teams feared playing a Jaguars D that pounded opponents. I remember when turnovers were expected of the Jaguars defense.
But let’s stop remembering. It’s about time better memories were made. That time is now.
- Luke N Sims