If the Jaguars keep trying to use Derrick Harvey as a big body, they're going to waste him.
Reggie Hayward's season-ending injury in Jacksonville's loss at Indianapolis likely forced Harvey into his role this past Sunday. With new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker employing mostly three-man fronts in the first two regular season games, the Jaguars' defensive line has been pressed into service in positions with unique size requirements.
At 6'5" and 281 pounds, Harvey would seem a decent fit for what's called a "five-tech" end—a defender who lines up across from an offensive tackle and is responsible for the gaps to either side of that tackle. The position requires long, strong arms to separate from blockers and the "base" (lower-body strength) to push against them.
Hayward (6'5", 275) had both. Though signed by Jacksonville in 2005 to be a pass-rushing threat—an expectation he met with 8.5 sacks that year—a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2006 robbed Hayward of the explosiveness he used to pursue opposing quarterbacks.
Before fracturing his shin in this year's season opener, Hayward seemed to have reshaped himself into a roughneck end, ready to fight with opposing tackles from that five-tech spot. When he went down, the Jaguars were left without a comparable player on their depth chart.
Harvey has the arms. In Jacksonville's two losses thus far, he's shown the ability to strike out at blockers to keep them from latching on. But, as Sunday's 31-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals made abundantly clear, he doesn't have the base.
The Jaguars lined Harvey up in place of Hayward for over half of his snaps. He played the position the only way his tools allowed, by attacking the tackle.
On some plays, he bull-rushed to try and seal off his side of the line, but the Cardinals' tackles proved too hefty for Harvey to move without over-committing to them. Arizona's running backs broke contain to the outside, and quarterback Kurt Warner was able to make quick throws before Harvey could release from his blocker.
When Harvey attacked his gaps, the Jaguars' spread-out line gave him little help, with Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells consistently hitting the holes he left. Pass rushing from face-up on the tackle forced him to choose between getting caught in the middle or running too wide an arc.
Harvey's best and worst plays came as an end in four-man fronts. Tellingly, both came after he had dominated his blocker from that position.
His best effort of the afternoon, as depicted in the photo accompanying this article, came on a strong side run by Hightower.
Lining up on right tackle Levi Brown's outside shoulder, Harvey was ready for Brown's attempted lead block. He punched out, shoving Brown aside, and slammed into Hightower at the line of scrimmage.
The outside position gave Harvey the edge, literally, on Brown by turning what would've been a shoving match, had he lined up at five-tech, into a test of balance and upper-body strength. With space on the end to maneuver, Harvey used Brown's momentum against him and made the play.
But Harvey's worst play of the day also happened in open space. On Arizona's last drive of the first half, he beat Brown around the edge of the pocket and had a shot at Warner.
As soon as the way to the quarterback was clear, though, Harvey lumbered forward cautiously at a bad angle and whiffed as Warner hit receiver Jerheme Urban for a 12-yard gain. His swiftness in moving past his blocker was wasted with a moment's indecision.
Throughout the game, Harvey missed several opportunities to stop runs in the backfield because of similar hesitation—the mark of rookie lessons not fully learned.
In this coming Sunday's contest against the Houston Texans, Harvey matches up better physically against tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston than he did against Arizona's grinding linemen.
If the Jaguars' scheme leaves him free to attack them—and if he attacks without hesitation—Harvey has many more aggressive plays like his tackle of Hightower in him. But that potential, as of this past Sunday, still has yet to be unleashed.