Jaguars still searching for improved pass rush
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)
Jason Babin raised his eyebrows in disbelief and then repeated the number just to make sure he heard it correctly.
''Twenty-four sacks a season?'' he asked. ''No. For real?''
Yep. The Jacksonville Jaguars have the most inept pass rush in the league over the last five years, totaling 120 sacks while changing players, coaches and schemes.
Maybe new head coach/defensive guru Gus Bradley can turn things around.
Players certainly have bought into Bradley's defensive design. They insist there's better talent and more depth at the tackle and end positions, and believe the aggressive, bump-and-run style at cornerback could disrupt timing between quarterbacks and receivers and possibly pay dividends.
''We're going to be able to cover, we're going to be able to rush and we're going to be able to stop the run,'' Babin said. ''Everyone always says those marquee things. But these guys are genuine. These guys are true. The players have bought into and are willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to succeed.''
The Jaguars have failed so many times in recent years to generate more pressure.
They whiffed by drafting defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves in the first and second rounds, respectively, in 2008. They got even less out of free agent Aaron Kampman, who signed a four-year contract worth $25 million in 2010 but never fully recovered from tearing ligaments in both knees.
They used their top four draft picks on defensive linemen that same year, but none has panned out.
They even brought in the Canadian Football League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player (John Chick) with the hope that he could find similar success in the NFL.
Chick finished with 2 1/2 sacks in 19 games - not bad for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville's 120 sacks over the last five seasons is seven fewer than the next closest team, Kansas City, and nearly 100 behind NFL leaders Pittsburgh (218) and Minnesota (218).
Sure, sack totals can be overrated. But pressuring quarterbacks and making them uncomfortable in the pocket are key to defensive success in the NFL these days.
Players and coaches point out all the moving parts in the process: stopping the run, pushing the pocket from the middle, covering receivers and getting help from the offense. The Jaguars struggled to do those last season, thus ranking 30th in the league in total defense.
With an inability to cover receivers in one-on-one situations, Jacksonville played mostly zone defense in 2012, trying to get to opposing QBs with a four-man rush while playing a bend-but-don't-break defense.
The Jaguars finished with a league-low 20 sacks, the third-lowest total in franchise history.
''Everybody wants to blame the edge rushers,'' defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ''That's a misconception. An edge rusher ain't nothing without a pocket pusher. If the pocket's not getting pressed and pushed and caved in, it don't matter if there's an edge rush or not. All the quarterback has to do is step up and make plays.''
Mincey has a point. After all, the Jaguars dumped defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and C.J. Mosley, and moved former top-10 pick Tyson Alualu to defensive end. They signed Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks in free agency and claimed Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love off waivers from New England.
If those guys can create more middle push, it could help the ends. Still, the Jaguars are counting on Alualu to make strides in his new position, Mincey to be more consistent, 33-year-old Babin to return to his old form (18 sacks in 2011) and second-year pro Andre Branch to take a significant step in his development.
If they can't get it done, the Jaguars probably will be right where they've been the last five years - down in sacks and still searching for a solution.
''There may be times where we've got to get creative if we don't feel it to the level that we want,'' Bradley said. ''I think that's on us as coaches to make sure we utilize our best rushers.''