Becoming an Elite Defense: The Front Line
In 2009 the Jaguars began their rebuilding phase, and drafted players like Defensive Tackle Terrance Knighton and Defensive End Austen Lane to once again have a formidable front. Once again in 2010, the Jags selected defensive tackles in the first and third round with Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith to reenforce the line with the full departure Marcus Stroud, John Henderson, Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward.
Fast forward to 2011, the Jaguars made bigger moves to the back seven of the defense in Free Agency by scooping up players Paul Posluszny, Dawan Landry and Clint Session to bulk up their defense. They were also able to secure Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman, whose contributions made the Jaguars the 6th rated defense in the league. Looking forward to the 2012-2013 season, the Jags have acquired more talent to climb the ladder into top 5 contention.
Defensive line coach, and avid screamer Joe Cullen was hired to improve the defense line, and for two seasons, he has. From 26 sacks in 2010 to 31 sacks in 2011, the arrow only points up with the talent in the Jaguars locker room. In this year’s draft, the first defensive player who will help the Jags defense reach elite status was Andre Branch with the 38th pick. With him, the Jaguars are hoping they have finally found their missing piece at defensive end. If his pass rushing talent translates well at the pro level, he will give the Jags what they’ve longed for since the line included the names Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer. Andre will most definitely start opposite Jeremy Mincey who has been a bright spot at the position. Depth includes Austen Lane and John Chick who have proven to be capable backups, but have yet to reach their potential.
Defensive Tackle is another position that looks improved this season with plenty of competitive depth, something all teams strive for. Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu will most likely return as starters, unless the team believes Knighton requires more time to heal from and eye injury suffered this offseason. The depth at this position is incredible with players like C.J. Mosley, and D’Anthony Smith and newly acquired Jeris Pendleton.
D’Anthony Smith is heading into his third season as a rookie, never officially playing in a regular season game due to injuries suffered in the preseason. I look at Smith like a player drafted in the NHL or MLB. He was drafted, but has not yet played in the majors. The NFL does not have farm teams, but Smith has had the playbook, the weight room and access to coaches as well other assets during his recovery, which makes him a more refined player heading into his first real year.
Last but not least in Jeris Pendleton who was taken in the 7th round as an insurance policy. Pendleton is not your average rookie as he, like Brandon Weeden, is 28 years old. However, unlike Weeden, Pendleton is not being asked to start at the most difficult position on the field which may take years to develop. Pendleton with be in the rotation, and should be able to stop the run well with his size and strength. He may be years older than the average NFL rookie, but he is a grown man with strength to plug up the middle.
While the Jaguars are not ever seen as a real force to be reckoned with, they’re defensive play spoke volumes despite their massive injury reserve list. The Jaguars may have finished 6th overall in defense last season, but with new additions and a demanding coach, they will improve.
– Antonio Furgiuele