The Jacksonville Jaguars defense improved considerably in Mike Caldwell's first year on the job. However, he was also learning on the job, so there's room for improvement. Louis Riddick of ESPN believes the defense will need to put it all together if they want to make a realistic shot at reaching the Super Bowl.
Riddick made an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show and was asked which team can make it all the way next season and unequivocally picked Jacksonville but believes Caldwell must keep making strides.
"Oh my god, I like this team", Riddick said. "And they are going to be explosive offensively and defensively. They've got athletes galore everywhere. It's really going to come down to Mike Caldwell has got this is where I think it's gonna all come together".
"Mike is a young up-and-coming defensive coordinator. He's got a bunch of guys on this on the defensive side of the football that are fantastic freaking athletes who are young and are still trying to figure out how to play together because Doug Pederson as a leader, and as a person, I couldn't be higher on any coach in the NFL than I am on him", Riddick said.
A former NFL player, Caldwell met head coach Doug Pederson on Andy Reid's coaching staff of the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Caldwell then joined the New York Jets organization and later became the Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebackers coach in 2019 before becoming the Jaguars' defensive coordinator last year.
Caldwell took over a unit that had ranked 28th in points allowed the year before and dead last in takeaways with nine. Being a first-time coordinator, he went through the growings and pains of having to learn on the job but Jacksonville finished 12th in the league in points given up and fifth in the league with 27 takeaways registered.
On the other hand, the Jags also had a few rough outings and gave up a third-down completion percent rate of 43.2, good for 29th in the league. Similarly, their 35 sacks were tied for 26th, so there's certainly room for improvement. Here's Riddick's full exchange with Eisen:
The Jaguars fortified Mike Caldwell's unit in the offseason
One of the Jaguars' worst losses last year came against the Detroit Lions in Week 13. They gave up 40 points that game but Doug Pederson stood up for Mike Calwell, noting he was trying different different things at the time before realizing they had to back off a little bit.
Looking back, it was good to see Pederson stick up for Caldwell. A more impulsive head coach could have easily moved on from his coordinator just one year after firing him. Instead, Pederson recognizes Caldwell's coaching skills and is guiding him through the process.
The fact that the Jags fortified most position groups on defense should help Caldwell do an even better job next season. Although Jacksonville let defensive end Arden Key in free agency, they used several draft picks to bolster the defensive line, the linebacker corps, and the secondary. While some of the players the Jaguars brought in might need time to develop, a handful of them could end up earning important roles as the season progresses.
On top of that, players like outside linebacker Travon Walker, cornerback Tyson Campbell, safety Andre Cisco and even edge rusher Josh Allen are expected to get better. If they do, the Jaguars will have a stout defense to complement their high-powered offense.
There are many reasons to believe the Jaguars can make a deep playoff run in the 2023 and if their defense plays at a high level, talks about potentially reaching the Super Bowl might not be far-fetched.