The Other Defensive End – Andre Branch
By Luke Sims
I was recently going through a list of offseason needs, acquisitions, retentions, cuts, etc. The list of chores that all teams must address at some point after tehy finish the season and start another one. The two most pressing needs for the Jaguars heading into the offseason were Wide Receiver and Defensive End. Some analysts would also argue cornerback, and I agree, though it was far less pressing with the two starting corners returning for 2012 from injury.
Wide receiver has received a lot of attention recently. And as it should. The Jaguars signed Laurent Robinson from Dallas who they believe can make another step to a top level in the NFL. The Jags also drafted Justin Blackmon, the consensus best receiver in the 2011 draft. They further added insurance by bringing in Lee Evans from Baltimore who, if he recovers, could have a shot at making the roster and performing well despite depleted numbers in seasons past.
But what about defensive end? What happened to the position that the Jaguars felt was so necessary to upgrade? As we all know, the pursuit of re-signing DE Jeremy Mincey was a success (thankfully). He led the team with eight sacks in 2011 and appears to be on the rise, entering the prime of his career. But what of the other defensive end slot?
The Jaguars used a “guess and check” philosophy at defensive end last season. They grabbed as many mid-range DEs as they could find and tried them at the spot, hoping that one of them would stick. Mincey stuck on one side. But what of the other?
Matt Roth seemed to be doing well last season with 3.5 sacks (tied for second best on the team). John Chick also seemed to be coming on strong at some points (2.5 sacks). But really, the only player that the team had some solid confidence in, or so it felt, was Austen Lane who ended the season with one sack in six games (one game started).
So, who’s going to make the jump to hold down the defensive end slot? Matt Roth was let go during free agency, John Chick is a rotation man, and Austen Lane just may be supplanted as the coaches’ favorite. Enter, Andre Branch.
The team picked Branch from Clemson in the second round of the 2012 draft. He has long arms, a big body, high motor, and appears to have a knack for getting after the quarterback. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen is very excited about Branch. It appears that Cullen may have even coveted the player heading into the draft.
Branch has yet to play at pro football speed, but if we can believe what the coaches are saying, he definitely has the opportunity to be successful in the NFL. And not just because of the physical tools that the Jags saw in him. Branch knows that at the NFL level, everybody you’re playing is there because they are good. He knows that he has the physical tools to be successful but isn’t thinking that is how he is going to beat the opposition. He knows he needs to outmuscle, outposition, and outthink the man in front of him.
Branch knows he wants to be better than average. He wants to be great.
Here in Jacksonville, with an open defensive end slot, it looks like he’ll be given every opportunity to become just that.
– Luke N. Sims