Rookies reported for training camp on Wednesday. Veterans report next week. With the regular season in sight, we look at the three biggest questions on the Jacksonville Jaguars defense.
The Jacksonville Jaguars finished second in overall defense and second in sacks last season. The defensive line was ferocious. The secondary was the best in the NFL. Still, with all the talent that defensive coordinator Todd Wash has to work with, there are some areas of concern for this team moving forward.
Here are three questions that must be answered.
Can the Jaguars Pass Rush Exceed Expectations?
OK, so I come out of the gate with a fastball. But it is a fair question. Can these Jaguars do the same things this season as they did last year, getting the quarterback early and often?
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Calais Campbell had 14.5 sacks in his best season in the NFL. Yannick Ngakoue had 12 sacks in his second season in the league. Malik Jackson played his best football and had eight sacks up the middle. Dante Fowler, Jr. had eight sacks playing in a reserve role. What is the expectation of this unit moving forward?
I don’t expect Campbell to have the same kind of season he did last year. Ngakoue could emerge as a 15-sack defensive end. Jackson came to OTAs in the best shape of his life and could have the same kind of production from the defensive tackle position. Fowler is in a contract year and is out to prove he deserves a long-term deal.
The Jaguars were able to get to the quarterback using only four rushers the majority of the season. Wash pointed out the team used very few blitz packages last season. Will he be able to get by without heavy blitz packages this season in this scheme?
The numbers may approach 2017’s totals, but I am not sure they are the same or better. Still, this will be a unit that gets to the quarterback.
Is Myles Jack the Next Great Defensive Player?
It sure looks that way. While the city of Jacksonville is still buzzing about the fact that Myles Jack, the third-year linebacker, “wasn’t down” in the AFC Title game, which could have been the difference in a win and Super Bowl appearance for the Jaguars, there are other things Jack will be remembered for this season.
With Paul Posluszny retired from football, Jack moves back to the middle and will not only be asked to cover running backs and tight ends across the middle of the field, he will be asked to help in run defense. There is no question in my mind the former UCLA star will be able to take another step forward this season in his growth at the position.
Jack and fellow linebacker Telvin Smith have a chance to be one of the best and fastest duos in the league. They are also one of the youngest. There is a battle for the final starting spot on the outside, with Blair Brown one of the players looking to grab the spot. Speed and agility make this unit one of the best in the NFL.
Look for Jack to get more attention from opposing offenses as they are becoming aware of his skills. Smith is a quick moving linebacker who gets to the ball and has had key interceptions during his career. Jack may follow that path as well.
Can the Secondary Get Off the Field on Third Down?
With all the talent in this group, third-and-six was a spot this team needed to be more efficient on last season.
Wash pointed that out in his press conference during OTAs. The Jaguars cannot allow teams to pick up large amounts of yardage to keep the chains moving. It will continue to be a focal point in training camp. Can the cornerbacks play any better than they did last season? Both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye were exceptional.
But like everyone, there is room for improvement. Safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson combined for eight interceptions last season. D.J. Hayden is now the nickel cornerback and rookie Ronnie Harrison figures to get many reps at both free and strong safety.
The Jaguars do a good job of shutting down their opponents’ top wide receivers. It’s the second and third options that concern me. If the Jaguars play tighter off the ball, the third down conversion is eliminated. I know it gets away from what Wash and his coaching staff have been doing, but playing more man coverage and less zone will help.