Jaguars defensive line still a work in progress
FEB 18, 2014 2:47p ET
The Jacksonville Jaguars wasted little time making over their defensive line in their first year under head coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich.
But transforming that line into one of the NFL's better such units is going to be a far more time-consuming process.
When the Jaguars stood at 0-8 at the halfway point of the season, their defense had given up at least 112 yards rushing in every game and recorded only 11 sacks. Some of the problems with the line over that stretch were a result of repeated disadvantages in time of possession stemming from an offense which averaged only a touchdown a game.
The 20 sacks by the Jaguars in the final eight games matched their entire output from 2012. But their final total of 31 tied the Chicago Bears for the fewest in the league. And the last two home games saw the Buffalo Bills rush for 198 yards and the Tennessee Titans amass 182 yards on the ground.
The organization was so pleased with what it got from tackle Sen'Derrick Marks after signing him to a one-year deal that he was rewarded with a four-year contract worth up to $22 million by season's end. On the negative side, end Jeremy Mincey was left home from one road trip and deactivated before another game for violating team rules and ended up being released in December and signing with the Denver Broncos, where he was reunited with former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio.
Here's a closer look at the Jaguars' defensive line situation.
Tyson Alualu, DE -- The 2010 first-round draft pick made the biggest transition of anyone on probably the entire team, switching from a tackle to an end in a 4-3 formation which required him to line up over the tight end. "Once he got it, you could see his progression through the second half of the season," defensive line coach Todd Wash told jaguars.com. Alualu continues to be dependable; he has started every game since being drafted.
Roy Miller, DT -- After spending the past four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miller was signed in an effort to strengthen the Jaguars' defense against the run. He finished with four tackles for a loss and two pressures in a season where he was slowed by a shoulder injury which forced Miller to miss the final two games, including the loss to the Titans where both Shonn Greene and Chris Johnson averaged better than four yards a carry.
Sen'Derrick Marks, DT -- His four sacks were one more than Marks had in all four of his seasons with the Titans. He turns 27 on Sunday, and the Jaguars clearly intend on keeping the 6-foot-2, 294-pound Marks around for the long haul. The Jaguars would prefer not to have him on the field quite so much -- he played 946 snaps in all -- but the lack of quality depth behind him made his presence an absolute necessity.
Jason Babin, DE -- In his first full season with the Jaguars, Babin had a team-high 7.5 sacks and 19 pressures. He also garnered national attention during their loss to Arizona by accidentally ripping the dreadlocks off the back of the helmet of Cardinals running back Andre Ellington. Babin will turn 34 in May, but he doesn't seem to be slowing down to any great extent and is one of the defense's leaders in the locker room.
Andre Branch, DE -- During the first half of the season, the second-year pro was best known for celebrating his sacks with a windmill dance, often doing so when the Jaguars were trailing by wide margins. Branch's histrionics became far less aggravating following the bye week in early November as the decision to use him and Babin together more frequently helped unleash his talent.
Brandon Deaderick, DT -- The veteran of three seasons with the New England Patriots was claimed off waivers in May. Deaderick started in Miller's absence against Tennessee but missed the final game at Indianapolis because of an elbow injury.
Abry Jones, DT -- One of three undrafted rookies to earn a roster spot, Jones spent much of the season on the inactive list.
Ryan Davis, DE -- Undrafted out of Bethune-Cookman and undersized (6-2, 260 pounds) for his position, Davis nonetheless made the most of his time after being promoted from the practice squad in midseason. He sealed both of the Jaguars' victories over the Houston Texans -- one with an interception, and one with an 18-yard sack of Matt Schaub on the final play of the game.
POSSIBLE FREE-AGENT TARGETS
What little splash was made by the Jaguars in free agency last year came along the line. So it's difficult to imagine general manager Dave Caldwell making this area a point of emphasis again by making a run at Cincinnati's Michael Johnson or Oakland's Lamarr Houston. The Jaguars are more apt to add depth through the draft and the waiver wire.
BEST DRAFT OPTIONS
The much-hyped Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina would be awfully hard for Bradley and Caldwell to pass on if he slips to the No. 3 overall pick. Would the Jaguars bypass their needs at quarterback in order to select someone who was often accused last fall of taking off plays? Should they make a selection in later rounds, it could be just as interesting to see what happens if Michael Sam of Missouri is still available.
Marks had a career year, but there's still not a Robert Mathis or Robert Quinn along the line who strikes fear in the hearts of fans of opposing teams. While the improved sack output is an encouraging sign, the committee-type approach might not result in a similar increase in 2014.