In part one, we had a review of what the Jaguars pluses and minuses were from the end of last season. While there were some definite arrows pointing up, there were plenty of holes too. The Jaguars addressed most of these weaknesses in three stages: Free Agency, the Draft, and Trades.
The Jaguars were not expected to be big players at all in free agency, but apparently, Gene Smith had a few tricks up his sleeve. Within two days from opening night, the Jaguars signed free agent Aaron Kampman, widely considered the second best DE available in free agency.
This was slightly risky, but was an overall great signing. While Kampman is coming off of a knee injury, he is recovering far ahead of schedule and said himself that he will be ready to play before the season begins. At this point, he is still on that schedule.
Kampman brings an explosive force off the edge and is an elite rusher as a 4-3 defensive end. The Jaguars are lucky that Green Bay forced him to an unnatural position of outside linebacker in a 3-4 and that he had an injury. A player of his caliber would not have been available for a price Gene Smith would pay except for these circumstances.
I am not worried about his timeline to return or the impact he will have when he does. Our team has an excellent record when it comes to evaluating players with medical histories. Look at the great job they did with Mike Sims-Walker. I am certain that Kampman will have an impact this year, even though he may be somewhat limited (since it is the first year off of a knee surgery).
The other free agent signing was Kareem Osgood, a special teams star from San Diego. Kareem just wanted a chance at being a wide out rather than exclusively special teams. He was a cheap signing. I am all for guys who have strong desires to compete. This can do nothing but help our team.
I don’t think anyone saw what was coming with the draft. I have to admit that I myself had my doubts initially after the first and second days. By selecting four defensive linemen and passing over many more popular/well-known draftees, Gene Smith really had me not wanting to talk football with my friends afterwards.
After researching, I have grown fond of this draft and think many will look at it as one of the best by any team this year.
On day one, I was ecstatic that Jimmy Clausen had fallen to No. 10. I was sure that this would make the pick easy to trade. I, like many other Jaguar fans, was let down when we were unable to find a partner. Then I was very surprised, and then let down, when we picked Tyson Aluala.
I shouldn’t have been down, though. After doing some research on the guy after the smoke cleared, it became evident that he was an impact player that was put in a scheme that somewhat masked his strengths. Scouts believe he is best suited to play inside as a 4-3 defensive tackle. With a speed in the 4.8’s, Gene Smith describes him as a disrupter who can surprise you with his speed. That’s just what the doctor ordered for the Jaguars.
On the second day of the draft, Smith was thwarted in his plans to trade up into the second round to select Sean Lee. In the third round, he shocked the world by selecting yet another defensive tackle, D’Anthony Smith. Smith is projected to do the same things as Alaulu, but will probably serve as a backup behind Alaulu and Terrance Knighton. Although Jags fans may have wanted a starter here, this was a solid pick.
On the final day of the draft, Gene Smith worked his magic turning what had been a surprising draft into a fantastic one. By dealing away his fourth to Oakland for Kirk Morrison and a fifth, Smith got great value for this pick.
In the fifth round, Smith managed to one up himself again by selecting defensive ends Larry Hart and Austin Lane.
Larry Hart was an highly productive defenesive end who was a beast in space the last couple of years at Central Arkansas. He is one of those guys who doesn't have the measurables ('ideal' height/weight), but gets it done with heart and hustle.
Austin Lane was a standout at defensive end for Murray State with 29 sacks in his career. Lane was considered the best DE in his conference. Not much to complain about here.
In the sixth and seventh rounds, the Jaguars selected Deji Karem and a Scotty Mcgee. These are great value picks which will enable our main offensive weapons to focus on their primary positions by taking over the respective kick returning and punt returning duties. Furthermore, Karim has been impressing in camp, and he may see some carries at the halfback positions.
With all the defensive linemen the Jaguars drafted, I have no doubt that we will see a marked improvement this year over last. And Even though Gene got heat for taking Alalua "early", it has since come out that many teams including Miami, the Cowboys, and the Patriots had interest in him. That’s a solid group of teams when it comes to drafting. We all saw how Gene’s last draft turned out, so I don’t think we should doubt.
While Gene was not successful in trading in the early rounds, he did much better in the later rounds. As I mentioned earlier, his two trades with the Raiders were absolute steals for us. And his trade with the Saints was brilliant as well.
We traded the pick we got for Groves to the Saints for their fourth round pick next year. This has to count as one of the best ways to recoup value for what appeared to be a surefire bust in Quentin Groves. You definitely get a A+ in my book for this trade, Gene.
And trading our fourth for Kirk Morrison and a fifth round pick, Austin Lane, was just ridiculous. Lane had 29 sacks in his career at Murray State and was the top defensive end in his conference. Morrison is a 100+ tackle guy for the last four years. If he was on the Colts, he would be a Pro Bowler (well probably, definitely if he was on the Steelers or a big market team)!
The final trade this summer was for Justin Smiley, the guard from the Miami Dolphins. I believe we traded a sixth round pick for him, which was a good deal on our part. Although he has been injured some for the last two years, he is a dominant guard when healthy. Not too shabby for a conditional sixth round pick.
The offseason is nearing its end, and the Jaguars roster, especially on defense, looks a lot different. We have at least two new starting defensive linemen, and one new starting middle linebacker. Not to mention a slew of rotation players that could secure our defensive line for the better part of the decade.
I fully expect the pass rush to improve to at least middle of the pack in sacks. I think that by virtue of the improved pass rush, our safety play will improve, as well as the corners.
I also expect to see an improvement in the linebackers play as well. Our front seven should be much improved over last year.
Is our defense a top 10 unit?
Maybe not this season, but I would expect so in 2011. I think that a top-half defense is reasonable to expect, with an improvement to at least 20th or above in total yards.
On offense, I would expect that with an improvement from the line, having the addition of Justin Smiley and another year under Eben Britton's and Eugene Monroe’s belt. I also expect that having someone to do the punt returns and kickoff returns will help Mike Thomas, allowing him to focus on his role as a wide receiver.
While we may not win the division or even make the playoffs next year, things are definitely looking up for the Jacksonville Jaguars fans.