The Jacksonville Jaguars are taking their time to fill their defensive coordinator coordinator vacancy. More than one week after dismissing Mike Caldwell, the search continues. Early in the process, they wanted to meet with Ryan Nielsen but their request was denied. It looks like they'll get the chance after all. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reports that the Jags are "expected to interview Nielsen.
Nielsen was one of the first candidates Jacksonville considered for the job. However, he's under contract with the Atlanta Falcons, and given that he's interviewing for the same position, the request can and was blocked. Early Wednesday, Michael Rothstein of ESPN confirmed Feldman's report.
However, Atlanta now seems comfortable letting him look for other opportunities while their own search for a head coach continues. A few days ago, they interviewed Bill Belichick for the opening. They then met with Jim Harbaugh late Tuesday.
The 2023 season marked the first time Nielsen was a defensive coordinator. Prior to landing in Atlanta, he was the New Orleans Saints defensive line coach from 2017-2020. He got assistant head coach added to his responsibilities in 2021 and co-defensive coordinator in 2022. Before coaching in the NFL, he had stints at USC, Ole Miss, Northern Illinois, and North Carolina State.
Besides Nielsen, the Jaguars are set to have or have already concluded interviews with Marquand Manuel (pass game coordinator, New York Jets), Chris Hewitt (pass game coordinator, Baltimore Ravens), Wink Martindale (former defensive coordinator, New York Giants), Shane Bowen (defensive coordinator, Tennesee Titans), and Chris Harris (pass game coordinator Titans).
Although Tennessee parted ways with Mike Vrabel, most of his staff remains under contract. That includes Bowen, which means the Jaguars' request to interview him could be denied, but it doesn't look like that will be the case.
The Jaguars are doing due diligence in searching for their next defensive coordinator
All candidates for the opening come with their own set of pros and cons. Nielsen in particular, has one year of experience at the position, so he would have the edge over Manuel, or Hewitt, who have never held the title of defensive coordinator. Under Nielsen, the Falcons' defense saw a big improvement in his first season at the helm, going from 26th in points allowed to seventh in 2023. Similarly, they went from 31st in third-down conversion rate to third.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars' defense regressed a bit in Mike Caldwell's second season at the helm. They went from 12th in points allowed to 17th. On the other hand, they were eight in third downs, so it wasn't all bad. That said, the defense struggled with tackling and blown coverages late in the season, which played a role in the team's four-game losing skid.
While the Jaguars would probably want to bring in someone who runs the same scheme as Caldwell, they're more likely interested in hiring someone who will focus on fundamentals and get the most out of their current personnel, regardless of the system.
Optimally, the Jacksonville Jaguars would have already filled the defensive coordinator vacancy. However, it seems like they want to make sure they land the perfect candidate.