Jaguars still trying to revamp woeful defense

Gene Smith’s draft philosophy is simple: ”If you miss, you want
to miss big.”

Smith has gone big with every early pick in his two years as
Jacksonville’s general manager, selecting two offensive linemen and
three defensive tackles in the first three rounds.

The trend probably will continue this week.

The Jaguars, who have the 16th pick in the first round Thursday
night, desperately need to upgrade a defense that ranked 28th in
the league last season (371.8 yards a game) and managed the
second-fewest sacks (26). And given that the draft’s deepest and
most talented position is the defensive line, the Jaguars are
likely to go in that direction even though they could use a
franchise quarterback, a big-play receiver and plenty of help in
the secondary.

”We like to get big people,” Smith said. ”They help win in
the fourth quarter. People are worn down. Certainly size does
matter at every position, but you’re not always able to acquire
great size, so we want guys who play big.”

Jacksonville used its first four picks on defensive linemen last
season, but only first-rounder Tyson Alualu emerged as an
every-down player. Alualu started every game in 2010, finishing
with 77 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks.

Third-round pick D’Anthony Smith tore an Achilles’ tendon during
training camp and spent the entire year on injured reserve.
Fifth-rounders Larry Hart and Austen Lane played significantly
after starting defensive end Aaron Kampman suffered a season-ending
knee injury in late October.

But the Jaguars don’t envision Hart and Lane as every-down ends,
and Kampman has two significant knee injuries in as many years. So
Jacksonville expects to add another pass rusher, maybe even with
its first pick.

Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, California’s Cameron Jordan and
Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt seem like obvious choices. Kerrigan fits
Smith’s mold as a high-character guy, a team captain and a tireless
worker.

”He’s a good player, certainly one of many defensive ends in
the first round that have the opportunity to come in and impact a
team early,” Smith said. ”There’s a lot to like about him.”

The 6-foot-4, 267-pound Kerrigan had 12 1/2 sacks and 26 tackles
for loss last season. He also left Purdue with 14 forced fumbles,
tying him for the Football Bowl Subdivision record.

”He’s what a lot of people are looking for,” Smith said.

The Jaguars are looking to revamp their defense – again. They
need linebackers, cornerbacks and maybe two starting safeties. The
team ranked near the bottom of every defensive category in 2010 and
got torched by just about every quarterback on the schedule.

Jacksonville really faded down the stretch, losing its final
three games and missing the playoffs for the ninth time in the last
11 years. The Jaguars managed six sacks in the final six games,
just two sacks during the three-game losing streak.

Team owner Wayne Weaver decided to keep coach Jack Del Rio for a
ninth season, but Weaver made it clear that Del Rio needs to reach
the postseason this fall. Weaver also stripped Del Rio of his role
as defensive coordinator. Nonetheless, Del Rio knows defense is
where the Jaguars have to improve to be able to beat Indianapolis,
Houston and Tennessee in the AFC South.

”We understand that we have some issues we need to address and
we’re working hard to do that and I think it will take a blend of
draft, of free agency and then working the guys that we have and
making those that we have that are going to return better,” Del
Rio said. ”So there’s a lot of work that needs to go into it, but
we’re committed to getting that done.

”We’re accustomed to really playing good defense here and we
absolutely must get that back. That’s one of the driving themes of
this offseason.”

Quarterback remains a concern, especially since inconsistent
starter David Garrard is 33 years old and the team has failed to
find someone to develop into his eventual replacement. The Jaguars
haven’t drafted a quarterback since selecting Byron Leftwich with
the seventh pick in 2003.

This could be the year, with Florida State’s Christian Ponder,
TCU’s Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick as possible targets
in the second round.

”Well, we have a good situation here,” Smith said. ”We have
an established starter in David Garrard and we feel like, if in
fact we did have an opportunity to get a quarterback, the guy would
not have to come in here and play right away. We have a very good
situation from that standpoint.”