Jaguars positional analysis: Defense
FEB 27, 2013 9:22a ET
By bucking the league-wide trend and hiring a head coach whose background lies on defense rather than offense, the Jacksonville Jaguars made it clear where their biggest area of emphasis will be this offseason.
Yes, the unclear situation at quarterback is generating most of the talk among their fans. But the defensive statistics from 2012 – a No. 30 ranking against the run, an NFL-low 20 sacks, only 12 passes intercepted – have to keep Gus Bradley up at night searching for solutions.
Bradley and new defensive coordinator Bob Babich, most recently the linebackers coach with the Chicago Bears, will stick with the 4-3 front but plan on implementing a speedy end/outside linebacker hybrid position called Leo. The Jaguars could well use the No. 2 pick in the draft to fill that spot, especially now that an abnormal heart exam last week has raised concerns about Utah defensive tackle Star Latulelei.
Change is coming, and some familiar names could be cast aside in the process.
Jeremy Mincey – His 20 quarterback pressures were the most on the Jaguars. But for 8 million bucks, they didn’t get quite enough bang from the defensive end from Florida, who recorded a career-best eight sacks the year before.
Tyson Alualu – The 2010 first-round pick posted a team-high 3.5 sacks and started every game for the third time in as many years. There is some question about how effective he’ll be at tackle in the new system, but the new staff is high on him.
C.J. Mosley – He became a starter at the other tackle spot and showed flashes of run-stopping ability. On a team that hasn’t always spent wisely, he’s a bit of a bargain.
Jason Babin – After being claimed off waivers from Philadelphia in late November, he gave the Jaguars a pass-rushing end that opponents needed to key on. He’s the leading candidate on the current roster for the Leo position.
Terrance Knighton (unrestricted free agent) – Mosley replaced him in the starting lineup, and it’s uncertain whether he’ll remain in Jacksonville for a fifth season.
Andre Branch – A second-round pick a year ago, he should provide Babin some competition. Defensive line coach Todd Wash, who came over from Seattle with Bradley, likes his quickness and length.
Austen Lane – A backup end who saw limited action, partly due to a foot injury early on.
John Chick (restricted free agent) – Like Lane, he was often banged up.
Final Analysis: This group wore down from being on the field for too many time-consuming drives. A full season from Babin should provide some relief, although the smart money would appear to be on the Jaguars strengthening this area through the draft.
Daryl Smith (unrestricted free agent) – The leading tackler in franchise history, he missed the first 14 games of last season because of a groin injury. If there’s not much of a demand for him elsewhere, he should return. But can he recapture his old form this late in his career?
Paul Posluszny – After breaking the Jaguars’ record for most tackles in a season with 231, his spot at middle linebacker is secure going into his third season in Jacksonville. He’d like to shake the dubious distinction of being one of the better players in the league to have not suited up for a playoff game.
Russell Allen – With Clint Session unavailable after sustaining two concussions in 2011, Allen wound up starting every game in his absence. He’s also a valuable special teams member.
Julian Stanford – He made six starts as a rookie at one of the outside spots. Another season under the tutelage of veteran position coach Mark Duffner should help him progress further.
Kyle Bosworth (restricted free agent) – After losing his starting job to Stanford, he’s likely to end up elsewhere.
Final Analysis: The Jaguars struck it rich in free agency with Posluszny two years ago. Don’t be surprised to see them go that same route in order to surround him with badly needed help.
Derek Cox (unrestricted free agent) – The Jaguars will not be using the $10.668 million franchise tag on him to make sure he remains with them. When healthy, he’s their best cover cornerback. But after missing 17 games the past three years with hamstring and groin injuries, is he worth a long-term deal?
Mike Harris – The rookie out of Florida State moved into the starting lineup later in the season and had an interception in the last of the Jaguars’ two victories. He should be a factor next season.
Dawan Landry – A starter in every game for the second consecutive season at one of the safety spots, he was the secondary’s leading tackler and was its only constant.
Dwight Lowery – His help in coverage was a strength. But for the second year in a row, he finished the season on injured reserve.
Rasheen Mathis (unrestricted free agent) – Time and an operation in 2011 to repair an ACL have taken their toll on the Jacksonville native and 2006 Pro Bowl selection.
Aaron Ross – Considered one of the Jaguars’ top signees last offseason, he wound up struggling instead. Can he bounce back at age 30?
Chris Prosinski – He took over for the injured Lowery and was inconsistent.
Antwon Blake – He finished second on the team in special teams tackles.
Final analysis: If Cox leaves, which is looking more and more likely, both cornerback positions would appear to be shaky, barring a return to form by Ross. That doesn’t bode well in a division where you have to face both Andrew Luck and Matt Schaub twice a year.
Punter - Bryan Anger – For as much of an outcry as there was when the Jaguars used a third-round draft pick on him, he proved his worth by finishing sixth in the league in total average (47.8) and seventh in net average (40.8).
Placekicker -- Josh Scobee – He has gone a combined 48-for-53 the past two seasons and, despite a slight dropoff in kickoffs that resulted in touchbacks, deserves to be back for a 10th season.
Punt returner -- Mike Thomas – In seven games with the Jaguars, he averaged seven yards on eight punt returns. This job is up for grabs between him and Jordan Shipley.
Kickoff returner -- Rashad Jennings (unrestricted free agent) – He tied Jalen Parmele for the team lead in kickoff returns. Neither one of them had a runback of more than 38 yards.
Final analysis: The kickers are solid, but new special teams coach Mike Mallory needs to improve every other area – including coverage, which was exposed in the final game when Tennessee’s Darius Reynaud took back two punts for touchdowns.
On a team coming off a 2-14 season, there’s always room for improvement. Bradley and his staff are planning to shake things up, particularly when it comes to putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Finding the right personnel and sustaining the turnaround over a prolonged period of time will pose a challenge.