Over the past two years, the Jacksonville Jaguars primary focus has been on rebuilding both lines. Last year, the Jaguars grabbed defensive ends in the first two rounds after struggling with any sort of pass rush in 2007.
This year they took two offensive tackles, addressing the issues that were encountered last season with a lack of quality depth. There were other holes to deal with this year, but the offensive line was a critical concern, and the Jaguars feel confident that they have fixed the issue.
Other problems were also addressed through the draft this year.
The release of veteran running back Fred Taylor created a need to find a running back to compliment the new front man, Maurice Jones-Drew. The team moved to draft Rashad Jennings late on day two.
It is expected he will compete not only for an opening day roster spot, but he will push to be part of the rotation with Jones-Drew.
Parting ways with Jerry Porter, Matt Jones, and Reggie Williams created a void at the wide-receiving position that the team addressed by signing Torry Holt to a contract. They spent two draft picks on receivers that should also compete for roster spots in training camp.
Dennis Northcutt has been a consistent contributor for the group, and the expectation is that Mike Walker will take the next step in his progression this year, so it appears that the receiving corps is going to be much improved this season.
With Gerald Sensabaugh allowed to depart through free agency, the team looked to secure the secondary by trading up to grab Derek Cox and Sean Considine. The rookie is anticipated to push for a starting position opposite Rashean Mathis, allowing Brian Williams to move back to the Strong Safety spot.
With Reggie Nelson in the starting lineup, and Scott Starks coming back from injury, the Jaguars can use Considine as a special teams contributor, or in dime packages as needed.
If everything falls into place with those position battles, the Jaguars will still have holes that need to be addressed. But the hope is that they will be minimized to a certain extent by improvements made, and the team will be able to take a step forward in 2009.
One of the most glaring areas of need fall along the defensive line, particularly at the tackle position. The Jaguars did draft Terrance Knighton to address this area, but it remains to be seen he will be a guy that the team can plug in on day one as a starter.
With aging veterans in John Henderson and Rob Meier in the rotation, finding the right player that can step in and fill the starting role is critical in the defensive scheme deployed by Jack Del Rio.
If Knighton cannot step in and play right away, it leaves the team with an aging rotation, and Derek Landri as a stop gap.
The interior of the defensive line has long been the strength of this team, but John Henderson took a step back last year after seeing his line mate, Marcus Stroud, traded to Buffalo. The team needs to determine whether Henderson’s regression was an anomaly, or if it is the natural decline of a veteran player.
If that is the case, then the team may be in trouble because Meier proved last year that he is a better role player than starter for the defense, and Landri is more of a pass rushing tackle and not as effective against the run.
There is an expectation that Derrick Harvey will take the next step in his progression, and he needs to live up to these hopes because the team will move Reggie Hayward to the opposite side of the line where he will replace Paul Spicer.
The Jaguars have a couple of designated pass rushers that they can bring in to help improve that area, but Harvey and Hayward must be the stalwarts anchoring the line. If they are unable to do this, then the Jaguars second biggest weakness last year will continue to be a thorn in their side.
With all of the concerns surrounding the status of the defensive line, the one area that tends to get overlooked is the Jaguars linebacker corps. A lot of hope hovers over Justin Durant, Daryl Smith, and Clint Ingram now that Mike Peterson has take up residence with the Atlanta Falcons.
Losing their leader should not be a significant hit for this group since they have played a good portion of the last three years without Peterson in the lineup.
The problem is that no real competition was added to the mix for 2009. There is a lot of potential among the three linebackers, but none of them is proficient at rushing the passer. Daryl Smith is a solid middle linebacker, and he has proved that he can quietly lead the unit, but he has never come into the season knowing that it was his job to lose.
Justin Durant is a player with tremendous upside, but he remains a bit raw. There are the bad angles and getting caught out of position that have haunted him previously. But, he has the speed and recovery ability that makes him a player to watch.
Clint Ingram is a big hitter, but like Durant, he has a tendency to take bad angles on plays and it can be costly in stopping the run.
With the lack of a veteran linebacker to plug into the mix, the team is going to rely heavily on Jack Del Rio’s ability to coach up this unit to overcome the inability they had last year to stop the run.
Granted, part of the issue had to do with the fact that they were not getting the help from the defensive line last year, but there were times when they struggled as well.
In the secondary, there still is a level of concern over whether or not Reggie Nelson can reach the potential that landed him in the first round two years ago. He’s got the tools to be a very good Free Safety, but there are times when he still seems to struggle with the mental aspect of the game.
Brian Williams is a solid contributor in the defensive backfield, but for how much longer? He’s a solid tackler with adequate pass coverage skills, but he’s a half step slow in some instances, particularly in coverage.
The lack of real depth with defensive backs is a hole that could expose this defense if injuries begin to pile up as they have in years past. Should the Jaguars suffer any significant injuries this year, particularly in the secondary, the problems will be significant.
It is still early in the process. The Jaguars do have many players on the roster that could step up and help them with the more glaring areas of need. The team will also spend significant scanning the waiver wires as veteran players come available between now and the preseason.
The Jaguars entered the offseason with an alarming number of holes to fill on their roster. With prudent free agent moves and smart drafting, they appear to have addressed the majority of them already.
However, there is never a period of rest for scouts and personnel guys in the NFL, and they are going to be hopping for the next couple of months to make sure that the areas of weakness that they were unable to address in free agency or the draft will be handled quickly.