Jaguars’ revamped defense struggling in preseason

The Jacksonville Jaguars failed to pressure quarterbacks, get
off the field on third down and prevent points last season.

The defensive woes were the focus of the team’s offseason, with
coaches, players and front office personnel eager to get them
fixed.

But after two preseason games, the same problems persist.
Jacksonville’s revamped defense simply looks like it needs more
work.

The Jaguars have allowed opponents to score on four of their
first possessions in both preseason games. Philadelphia scored a
touchdown and three field goals in its first five drives against
the Jaguars. Miami came away with three touchdowns and a field goal
in its first five drives Saturday night.

”I don’t feel the need to explain a whole lot about preseason
effort and how we’re putting things together,” coach Jack Del Rio
said Monday. ”I’m more interested in us going out and recognizing
what we’ve got to do better and committing to the work necessary to
get that done.”

The Jaguars have some excuses: lack of game-planning, several
newcomers finding their way, a different defensive scheme and
several key injuries.

Three starters – linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive end Aaron
Kampman and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu – missed the opener. They
returned last weekend, but linebacker Justin Durant and cornerback
Rashean Mathis were out.

”We are still trying to get that cohesiveness on defense,”
linebacker Kirk Morrison said.

Jacksonville gets another shot Saturday night against Tampa Bay,
which will be without starting quarterback Josh Freeman.

Kampman, the team’s top offseason free agent acquisition,
believes everything the Jaguars have done wrong can be
corrected.

”Explosive plays are really what we’ve done,” Kampman said.
”Some things are really easily correctable with our disciplined
eyes, making sure that we’re in our gap.”

Maybe, but the two preseason performances are a bad sign for a
franchise that was hoping for a defensive turnaround after
finishing with a league-low 14 sacks last season and giving up 380
points – the most since its inaugural season in 1995.

The Jaguars signed Kampman to a four-year contract worth $26
million, hoping he will return to Pro Bowl form after
reconstructive knee surgery in December. They traded for linebacker
Kirk Morrison, used their first four draft picks on defensive
linemen and parted ways with several aging veterans.

But how soon will all the changes pay off?

Kampman and Alualu, the 10th overall pick, played their first
meaningful down together Saturday night and showed promise. They
combined to sack Chad Henne on Miami’s first offensive play. But it
was pretty much the only thing Henne did wrong.

Henne completed 11 of 14 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns
against Jacksonville’s starters. Backup Chad Pennington was equally
efficient, throwing for 54 yards and a score in one series.

Del Rio pointed to issues in the secondary, the one position the
Jaguars didn’t address in the offseason.

”There are some things that we’re doing that we’ll need to do a
whole lot better … going forward for our football team to have
success that we intend on having,” Del Rio said. ”We’re going to
have to play better back there. There are still some basic leverage
in tackling issues that we’ve got to rectify.”

He used Anthony Fasano’s 55-yard touchdown reception as one
example, saying the tight end should have been stopped a few yards
from the line of scrimmage instead of running untouched into the
end zone.

”It was shoddy leverage and tackling on that play,” Del Rio
said. ”It’s real easy to see. Those are basic football plays that
we’ve got to do better, basic stuff. You’re not talking about
anything other than an eye violation and then a poor job of
leveraging and tackling, and when we do those better, it’ll look a
whole lot better.”