Jaguars Hope Pass Rush Develops

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Jason Babin (58) figures to be the Jaguars best pass rushers. Will he have more help in the sack department? (photo by Cole Pepper)

by Cole Pepper
August 5, 2013

Want some motivation to improve? Last year, Texans defensive star J.J. Watt had more sacks than the Jaguars did as a team.

Needless to say, improving the pass rush is a major focus of Gus Bradley and his staff. In the first week and a half of the pre-season, the pass rush was anything but impressive. But with Jason Babin getting healthy, the rush suddenly appeared Saturday night at the Jaguars scrimmage. The Jaguars hope that is just the beginning.

“Coach preaches to us that it’s a process and to trust the process,” Babin said. “Each step is going to come and the pieces are going to fall into place.”

The Jaguars defensive scheme this year will feature a line with three big guys and a speed rusher, particularly on early downs. This has forced Tyson Alualu from defensive tackle to defensive end in early down situations.

“As a bigger defensive end, we want to set the edge, stop the run, do my job out there,” Alualu said. “There’s a lot of good talent, people who can rush the passer. There are going to be times that I’m going to have to rush from the outside. Being a bigger body, it’s a lot of power rushes, trying to collapse the pocket.”

There could be a scenario where Alualu moves inside to provide some rush on 3rd down. But that’s no guarantee since the Jaguars appear to be as deep on the defensive line as they have been in years. The free agent signings of Sen’Derrick Marks (Titans), Roy Miller (Buccaneers), Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick (Patriots) have created a stockpile of big bodies. Add to that, the biggest body on the Jaguars roster, 364 pound rookie T.J. Barnes and the Jaguars should stop the run better this year. That leads us back to Alualu and his role.

“We gotta find guys who can win one-on-ones. We need more rush,” said defensive line coach Todd Wash. “We see some good change of direction for a guy [Alualu] that’s 305 pounds. Our package is built with one big end to the tight end side. We’re not asking him to be a big sack guy. We’re asking him to stop the run and condense the pocket.”

The Jaguars defensive line is full of potential and “what ifs” and if some of those questions can be answered positively, things could be dramatically different in Jacksonville this season.

“We feel that the sky is the limit for us,” Babin said. “I think everyone is excited to see how its going to work. Hopefully we wreak some havoc.”

The State of the Jaguars Defense

Jeremy Mincey2
Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey is fighting for a roster spot after the changes to the defensive scheme this year.

by Cole Pepper

The Jaguars players have a day off from training camp today, so we take this opportunity to size up the progress of the new Jaguars defense.

For starters, the Jaguars defense is loaded with new faces. Among the players expected to start defensive tackles Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks, linebacker Geno Hayes, safety Jonathan Cyprien and cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball are all new additions this off-season. Add to that Jason Babin, who figures to start at the LEO position (the pass rushing right defensive end) once healthy and recall that Babin didn’t join the Jaguars until last November. That means that eight of the eleven starters will be guys who weren’t in camp with the Jaguars last year.

The only holdovers are defensive end Tyson Alualu, who is moving from defensive tackle and linebackers Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen.

Because they haven’t had a fully padded practice, we have to keep the run defense in context, but it appears that Miller, Marks and some of the other big bodies like 364 pound TJ Barnes and 315 pound Kyle Love that general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley are intent on being large and stout upfront. Miller has especially looked the part in camp so far.

The pass rush is another story. It’s tough to gauge how good the pass rush will be when you can’t hit the quarterback, but we have seen a number of coverage sacks in team drill. However, with Babin limited, there has been a lack of one-on-one wins in the pass rush category. That’s good news for the Jaguars offensive tackles, bad news for the defense.

Veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey appears to be the best known veteran who is fighting for a spot on the roster. As I detailed before camp, Mincey doesn’t seem to fit in any of the starting positions on the defensive line in defensive coordinator Bob Babich’s system. He’ll need to prove that he can be a difference maker–if even on third down–to make the team.

At linebacker, Geno Hayes was singled out by Gus Bradley on Monday for his good start to camp. Posluszny and Allen are adjusting to a new style of linebacker play, but so far, things have gone relatively smoothly on that front.

When you watch the Jaguars defense, the most obvious change is with the defensive backs. Unlike past years under former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Jaguars are playing a lot of press coverage. Ball has been very good, despite drawing coverage on Cecil Shorts most of the time. We’ve seen that Gratz, a rookie 3rd round pick from Connecticut, has the physical tools. He has gotten lost a couple of time, but that’s to be expected. So far, Marcus Trufant hasn’t made many big plays, but the veterans knowledge of this system (he ran it in Seattle when Bradley was the defensive coordinator) should be invaluable.

It will be very telling to see if the Jaguars first team can generate a pass rush in live situations during the preseason games. To me, that’s the number one question facing this defense this preseason.

Jaguars Off-Season Analysis: Defensive Ends

Bob Mack/Times-Union
Bob Mack/Times-Union

by Cole Pepper

Which position group will have the most impact on the Jaguars success this year. You can always argue that the quarterback fills that bill, but that’s just one guy (at least, one at a time). This year for the Jaguars, the offensive line is key, but I would argue that the position group that may have the greatest impact on success will be the defensive line, and more specifically, the defensive ends.

If he’s healthy (and he’s been tweeting that he will be), Jason Babin will be the linchpin. If Babin can be a double digit sack man, the Jaguars defense has the chance to be among the most improved in the league. With all of the turnover in personnel, pass rush may be the difference between a 4 win season and an 8 win season (assuming improved play at quarterback).

Defensive coordinator Bob Babich will impliment a system very similar to the one run by Gus Bradley in Seattle. That means the LEO position. As Babich explained it to me, the LEO is “a guy who can set the edge against the run and who creates problems for the offensive tackle.”

That means strength, quickness and that sixth sense needed to rush the passer in the NFL. Babin has shown that in his career. Nobody else on the roster has.

The coaches have been complimentary of Andre Branch. The second year defensive end muddled through a disappointing rookie season. He showed flashes in the preseason, but it never translated to the field. He finished the year with just one sack. That won’t be good enough this season.

Jeremy Mincey is the most interesting case on the line. Where do you play him? Where does he fit? He’s not a sudden, explosive pass rusher. He’s an “effort guy.”  Mincey doesn’t know himself where he fits in, but is hoping to find a spot on the roster. He is one of the returning veterans who enter camp, theoretically, on the bubble.

Tyson Alualu will move to defensive end. At least, that’s the plan in the short term. Whether due to the knee injury he sustained in his rookie training camp or because he wasn’t utilized correctly, Alualu has never lived up to expectations, to say nothing of his draft position. He’ll move from defensive tackle on early downs, but don’t be surprised to see him moved inside in obvious pass rush situations.

The other player to watch here is Ryan Davis, who spent time in camp and on the Jaguars practice squad last year. The Bethune-Cookman product showed some ability to rush the passer. He could be a dark horse for a roster spot.

DE Depth

* – rookie     # – listed on roster as DE, likley to play DT

Top 10 Questions for Jaguars

Gus Bradley smiling
Will this man still be smiling at the end of the 2013 season?

by Cole Pepper

With training camp right around the corner the main theme with the Jaguars is new.  As in, new coach, new GM, new schemes on offense and defense, new uniforms, helmets and logos.

While much is new, one thing that is not is that the Jaguars must find a way to return to playoff contention. They haven’t played a post-season game since 2007 and haven’t hosted a playoff game in 14 years.

With camp about to open, here are the top 10 questions facing the Jaguars:

  1. The Quarterback-It’s a question that has been asked by the Jaguars since Mark Brunell’s last year. Some years, they knew who the quarterback would be, but not if he was THE guy. Heading into 2013, Blaine Gabbert has the inside position, but is certainly no lock for the starting job. This season will either be the first of Gabbert’s reign as THE guy, or the last before the Jaguars draft THE guy (or at least, the guy they hope will be THE guy).
  2. Pass Rush-The Jaguars have lacked a consistent pass rusher since Tony Brackens’ retirement. Can Jason Babin be a double digit sack man for the Jaguars? Can they develop a pass rush from other sides of the line. Gus Bradley wasn’t a big proponent of the blitz in Seattle. It comes down to the Jaguars getting pressure with the front four.
  3. Gus Bradley’s impact on approach-Bradley’s energy and enthusiasm are obvious. Will that translate into results? Also, how will Bradley’s positive vibe hold up if the Jaguars struggle early (a possibility with four of the first six games on the road)? My guess is that it will still be there, because Bradley isn’t faking the positive attitude, but he’s never lost a game as a head coach, and things can change when you are in the big chair.
  4. Will Justin Blackmon’s suspension hurt the offense? This is almost a given that it will, in some way. Cecil Shorts will see more double teams as Blackmon misses the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on controlled substances. Part two of this question is whether the suspension will affect Blackmon’s game when he comes back. Year two is usually an important one for highly regarded young receivers.
  5. Is Luke Joeckel for real? All indications are that he is, but we haven’t seen him against NFL defenses in pads. There will be a spotlight on Joeckel for each of his preseason games. But when the regular season begins, we’ll be able to judge where he is as a rookie.
  6. Can Denard Robinson and/or Ace Sanders make a difference? If I was pinned down, I would bet that Robinson would have more “WOW” plays, but that Sanders would make more plays. Still, Robinson has the kind of speed and obvious athletic ability to make jaw dropping plays, if he stays healthy. He’ll also be learning a new position and new responsibilities like pass protection and catching the football.
  7. Will Maurice Jones-Drew return to form after foot surgery? Eventually, I think the answer will be yes, but since Jones-Drew didn’t participate in team drills during the off-season, it’s tough to predict that he won’t have any rust as the preseason begins.
  8. Can Marcedes Lewis be a factor in the passing game again? Part of this equation is Luke Joeckel. Lewis was the de facto second right tackle last year. If Joeckel lives up to expectations, Lewis should absolutely be a bigger factor. If the pass protection is better, and if the Jaguars quarterback (whoever that is) plays better, Lewis can still be a valuable weapon, especially down the seam and in the red zone.
  9. Is Cecil Shorts for real? I think the answer to this is yes, but we’ll certainly have a good litmus test in the first four games when Justin Blackmon is serving his suspension. Shorts has the kind of attitude that will fit perfectly with Gus Bradley’s “get better every day” credo. As a former quarterback, Shorts has made learning the wide receiver position a central tenant of his approach to the game. Perhaps the better question here is not whether Shorts is for real, but how good will he be?
  10. What will it take for this season to be a success? Ask 100 people, you might get 100 answers to this question. Is it a matter of the win/loss record? What about just showing improvement? Or figuring out whether Gabbert is the quarterback to take your team to the post-season in the future.  I asked someone this question the other day and they said 6-10 would be a success. My follow up was “so winning three more games than the previous year isn’t a success?” He scratched his head and then admitted that it would be. What about 4 wins? 3 wins? Tough to call those a success, unless that allows you to draft your quarterback of the future in the first round.

These questions won’t be fully answered when training camp begins, but we will get the first hints of the answers very soon.