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2017 offseason: Under the radar, defense

Posted Jul 17, 2017

Nine days before veterans report, senior writer John Oehser examines three defensive players who are under the radar as Jaguars 2017 Training Camp approaches

JACKSONVILLE – Faster and faster now, training camp approaches.

As we continue to examine storylines that will shape Jaguars 2017 Training Camp and the ’17 season, we continue our look at the franchise’s under-the-radar players who could do much of that shaping.

We covered three under-the-radar offensive players Friday, but finding potential under-the-radar Jaguars defensive players is trickier. That’s because most of the Jaguars’ key defensive players in 2017 figure to be the unit’s more high-profile players.

And there are indeed a slew of high-profile players on that unit, with linemen Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson all arriving in the past two offseasons as unrestricted free agents and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., middle linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Jalen Ramsey all arriving in the last three offseasons as highly-publicized draft selections.

Still, while the above-mentioned players will be key in 2017 – and while all are worth watching in ’17 training camp – the Jaguars need contributions from slightly lesser-discussed players as well.

Here are three under-the-radar defensive players to watch as ’17 training camp approaches:

*Abry Jones, defensive tackle. It’s close to time to stop calling Jones under the radar. That’s because the 2013 undrafted rookie has developed in four NFL seasons as a key player along the defensive line. But because he play the oft-underappreciated, overlooked position of nose tackle, Jones perhaps still qualifies as at least being somewhat off the radar. Whatever his profile, Jones took over as a starter with 10 games remaining last season when veteran Roy Miller III sustained a season-ending torn Achilles. While many observers wondered if the Jaguars would miss Miller in the middle, Jones held strong against the run and gave the defensive front a penetrating, athletic element that enabled it to remain a strong unit against the run. Jones’ athleticism gives the Jaguars’ a disruptive element at nose, and he should hold strong against the run in 2017.

*Aaron Colvin, cornerback. Colvin, despite entering a contract year, wasn’t discussed much during the offseason. Some of that was because the four-year veteran missed the on-field portion of the offseason with an injury, and some was because many observers’ focus was on Ramsey and Bouye. Colvin likely will play the third corner position for a second consecutive season. That’s a positive for the Jaguars because he is an effective, instinctive blitzer who has a good sense of the overall field and covers slot receivers well. He won’t be the Jaguars’ most high-profile corner entering 2017, but in an era in which must have a capable nickel corner, he absolutely gives the Jaguars that element. He also is a capable outside corner if Bouye or Ramsey is unavailable.

*Sheldon Day/Michael Bennett, defensive tackles. It makes sense to talk about these two as a duo, because they play the same position with similar roles. Day, a fourth-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, showed flashes of impressive disruption as a rookie last season – and he finished the season with a sack. Bennett, a sixth-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, played in 13 games with a half-sack as a rookie, but missed the entire 2016 season with injuries. Bennett was impressive in the on-field portion of the offseason program. The Jaguars’ defensive line will rotate heavily this season, so either Day or Bennett likely will play a major role. Which one will get the role? That may be decided in the preseason and training camp.

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