Well known throughout the NFL for having a poor pass rush, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear to have failed to address the defensive end and rush linebacker/Leo positions in both the 2013 NFL Draft and free agency. The Jaguars didn’t pick a player like Oregon’s versatile Dion Jordan in the first round and they focused instead on the defensive backs. The backs will will help give the pass rushers more time to get to the quarterback, but the defensive line improved this offseason as well.
Perhaps the player who will influence the pass rush the most (and will definitely influence the run game the most) is defensive tackle Roy Miller. Miller plays the tilt at defensive tackle, demanding a double team from the center and a guard. His numbers (23 tackles, no sacks) don’t reveal him to be a pass rushing force, but he opens the door for other players to make the plays.
Having a player like Miller at defensive tackle may finally allow fellow defensive tackle Tyson Alualu to make more plays in the pass rush. Alualu was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft for his fast hands, good footwork, and his complementary abilities to a big space clogging defensive tackle in Terrance Knighton. Alualu has not been that game changer who collapses the pocket that he was expected to be. With someone like Miller clogging the middle more effectively than Knighton, he may see more opportunities to collapse the pocket and force the quarterback to move into the path of a defensive end.
The defensive end position is the glamour position along the defensive line. They are the guys who get the sacks, ultimately make the plays, and get the credit. The interior of the defensive line has improved and there is reason for hope that Alualu can improve with better play alongside him, but it’s the defensive ends that really needed the extra work in the offseason. So, what did the Jaguars do? They did nothing really.
The Jags signed tryout guy Pannel Egboh, a defensive end who has to be pleased he currently has a contract. But other than that, the Jaguars are essentially the same as they were last season. They have second-year man Andre Branch, 2012 mid-season pickup Jason Babin, Jeremy Mincey, and Austen Lane to rush the passer. Those four players combined produced just 7.5 sacks in 2012. There is reason to believe they will improve, though.
Mincey signed a nice new contract with the Jaguars before 2012 following a career best season rushing the passer in 2011 with eight sacks. He dropped off in 2012 but he has the ability to get to a similar level in 2013. Babin is a sack master and an exclusive pass rusher. He played the wide nine, lining up well outside the offensive tackle or tight end, in Philadelphia but will be playing Gus Bradley’s hybrid Leo role in the new defense. Having him for a full season should be huge as he is easily the Jaguars’ best pass rusher. Lane and Branch are the bigger question marks here but both are young and still growing into their roles. Branch can only improve and Lane has shown sparks at times. With better defensive tackle play there is an expectation that the defensive ends make more plays in 2013.
Ultimately it all comes down to coach Bradley, defensive coordinator Bob Babich, and defensive line coach Todd Wash to turn these players from a near non-factor in 2012 to a major factor in 2013. The schemes and improved coverage should help, but ultimately it relies on the players and the potential that they have. The Jags are young and while a lot of the D-line guys have underwhelmed in the past, they still have a lot of upside.
- Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims