The Jacksonville Jaguars defense is already in mid-season form having played as well as it did in 2017. The 2018 season looks bright with this unit on the cusp of greatness.
Malik Jackson is a perfect example of why the Jacksonville Jaguars will have one of the best defenses in the NFL once again this season. The Pro Bowler from 2017 played the best season of his career in a Jaguars uniform, grabbing eight sacks and helped the team’s defense finish second overall in the league last season.
Jackson came to OTAs and minicamp in great shape, shedding pounds, looking leaner and more important, he was just as hungry as he was last season to make a lasting impression on the NFL. While Jackson waxed profound once again – predicting the Jaguars would finish 16-0 and go to the Super Bowl, his play alongside his defensive teammates is a reason to believe reaching Atlanta is a real possibility.
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Defense wins championships. The tried and true confession has worked for 52 years in every Super Bowl ever played. The Jaguars came into this season there was unfinished business. There were plays left on the field in the AFC Title Game. Third-and-18 for one. Allowing Tom Brady to wave his magic wand and will the New England Patriots to another shot a Lombardi Trophy.
Jackson wasn’t alone in his desire to be better this season. There are others, like those who cleared out their lockers following a 24-20 loss to the eventual AFC Super Bowl representatives.
This season presents new challenges, new opportunities. Jackson knows it. Calais Campbell knows. Nine other defensive starters know it as well.
In an interview following the Jaguars 17-6 win over Atlanta on Saturday night, Jackson said he was pleased with the defensive effort and was excited for that regular season to get started.
"“I think that we’ve shown a lot. We’ve shown growth and consistency and accountability and think that’s the key thing right now,” he said. “We just finished camp, so you know it’s a blessing, but you’ve got to keep going so we have one more game to go.”"
There are actually 17 more games to go, but that ends the preseason. Another chapter in this team’s story is to be written. Jackson likes what he sees on the field. The coaching staff has preached moving forward, getting better, playing with more intensity.
The Jacksonville Jaguars defense has done that, and more. The difficult training camp and the rigors he and his teammates were put through will pay off and have proven to do just that with the 10-6 record from last season.
"“I’m starting to get more used to it. The first one, last year, was probably the worst one because we didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t have an understanding and we couldn’t see the end goal so we had some fogginess in our way,” he added. “This year, we were knowing what to expect and this year I took my time coming to OTA’s and it worked out well for me and I may take more time next year.”"
Rookie defensive lineman Taven Bryan finally got his first taste of live action Saturday night after being held out of the first two preseason games. He said after Saturday’s game that playing against a team like Atlanta will certainly help him prepare for the upcoming season.
"“I just wanted to come out and feel the speed of the game and knocking off the rust was probably the biggest thing for me.“Obviously, I missed a couple of games but knocking that dust off was really good and getting a feel for the game, we’ll have some tape tonight and I’ll see what I need to fix and where I need to go from here.”"
Bryan is one of the future components of this defense. While he learns to nuances of pass rush and speed and technique, he has already shown the ability that should make him a stalwart for this organization.
Bryan, safety Ronnie Harrison, and linebacker Leon Jacobs head a rookie class that could enjoy success just a step below the trio of Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue. Working on the present while building for what lies ahead has been a mantra of sorts for the front office and a key reason why the Jaguars turned 10 losing seasons into an AFC South title last year.
"“One of the biggest things is I go against a great offensive line, so I’m used to it and the guys we have here are pretty stupid good, to be honest,” Bryan added. “And when you go against somebody else you’re kind of used to it with the speed. ”"
The Jaguars have their final preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. It will be a somber event for those who are released after four months of preparation. The roster is pretty well set, with only a few spots open for the taking.
Jackson and Bryan are perfect examples of how good this team can be now and years from now. The present, however, is what this team and the defense is focusing on. Rewriting their story of missed opportunities at New England last season. Making the most of a great opportunity to get back to the playoffs and beyond.
Jackson’s proclamation of 16-0 may not happen, but a hunger to reach that pinnacle drives him and his teammates. It’s something Bryan will learn. Hopefully, it means this defense leads Jacksonville to a place it’s never been before – a Super Bowl berth.