David Richard/Associated Press
It's impossible to deny that Bradley and Caldwell have made an effort to bolster a pass rush that registered just 31 sacks last season. However, it's difficult to believe they have done enough to significantly upgrade this area.
The Jaguars signed aging rush end Chris Clemons, along with linebacker Dekoda Watson in free agency. They waited until the fifth round to draft a pass-rusher, opting for the versatile Chris Smith.
That they didn't add more fresh faces, or at least target more marquee options, is proof they are content to gamble on progress. That means believing 32-year-old Clemons can bounce back, as well as thinking young players will be better in Bradley's second year.
That thinking led to the release of Jason Babin, according to ESPN.com reporter Michael DiRocco. Babin led a sack-shy team in quarterback takedowns in 2013.
But DiRocco has stressed how much Bradley believes in his younger players at the position:
Coach Gus Bradley has consistently praised third-year player Andre Branch, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2012, throughout OTAs. His burst off the ball and quickness around the edge is noticeable, and he has consistently been in the backfield during 11-on-11 drills. Though the players are only wearing helmets and prohibited from full contact, Branch appears to be ready to become the kind of consistent player he was during the second half of the 2013 season, when he recorded five of his six sacks in the final seven games.
Fifth-round pick Chris Smith doesn’t fit the Jaguars’ typical measurables for what they want in a LEO -- a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is rushing the passer -- but they liked what they saw from him during Senior Bowl week so they took a chance. The 6-foot-1, 266-pound Smith is a little shorter than ideal, but he has long arms and runs well.
It's a risky move to trust largely unproven players to key a turnaround in such a vital area. The Jags play in an AFC South division that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andre Luck calls home. They must also be wary about the arrival of Ken Whisenhunt as head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Whisenhunt is a sharp offensive mind who knows how to craft a dangerous passing scheme. Jacksonville's defense will need to apply consistent pressure if it's going to improve on last season's 27th ranking.
That's why it's a surprise that Bradley didn't covet more accomplished pass-rushers.
He brought Clemons in because he knows him from Seattle. Despite his fine pedigree, he mustered only 4.5 sacks last season. He is just about a year removed from suffering a torn ACL and undergoing major surgery.
That creates a big question mark over whether he will ever get back to the form that saw him log double-digit sacks three seasons running. If he can't, then Branch and Smith will be under greater pressure to deliver.
Of course, Bradley is not only banking on there still being life left in Clemons, but he's also ready to scheme a stronger pass rush.
One way he'll do it is by using Watson as an "Otto." That's the name given to a strong-side linebacker who is stacked on the defensive front and given plenty of rush responsibilities, per Florida Times-Union reporter Ryan O'Halloran.
But while that's a creative wrinkle, scheming can only get a team so far with its pass rush. Ultimately, the ability to consistently generate heavy pressure is determined by the talent of the athletes along the front seven.
The Jaguars may regret not recruiting more stellar talent for their pass rush.