JACKSONVILLE – The quiet around the Jaguars continues, but likely not much longer.
That’s no hint about what’s coming or not coming this week, but it stands to reason the Jaguars’ general manager search will come to an end relatively soon. With that, we’ll get a better idea about the franchise’s direction, and until then, we’ll continue our look at what the new general manager will inherit.
Today, that means a look at the state of the roster on defense.
Before that happens, a quick reset:
Monday was mostly quiet on the front – publicly, at least – with no reports of new candidates, and with reports being that Atlanta Falcons Director of Player Personnel David Caldwell interviewed for a third time for the position.
This came in the wake of many reporting over the weekend that Caldwell and Arizona Cardinals Vice President of Player Personnel Steve Keim were the two being considered for the job.
Many throughout Monday speculated that Caldwell’s third interview made him the favorite, but as of early Tuesday, nothing official had been announced.
So, as of early Tuesday – as we did Monday – we wait, and as we do, we’ll continue a position-by-position look at the roster the new general manager will inherit.
We’ll move on today with a look at the Jaguars’ defense:
Defensive end (6 on roster and/or injured reserve)
Season synopsis: This area, like many areas of the defense, struggled throughout much of the season, though it did improve late in the season after the team acquired Babin – a Pro Bowl selection in 2010 and 2011 – off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles. Mincey, after registering a team-high eight sacks a year ago, finished with three this season while starting all 16 games. Babin finished with 1.5 sacks with the Jaguars in four games, but provided better energy and pressure from the position than it had before his arrival. Overall, the ends produced 8.5 sacks this season and the Jaguars finished last in the NFL with 20 sacks.
Where they stand: Heading into the offseason, there are questions surrounding nearly every area of the defense, and that’s true of defensive line. There is speculation the team could switch to a 3-4 scheme going forward, but that’s not likely unless there’s a coaching change. Assuming a 4-3 scheme, defensive end still seems likely to be addressed. Babin is under contract with the Jaguars for at least one more season and he played more than well enough to merit a return. Mincey re-signed last offseason, but he didn’t match the production he had in 2011 and the team needs more production from the end position. Branch registered just one sack as a rookie and must improve significantly to fulfill what’s expected from a second-round selection. Lane was very good against the run, and Chick and Selvie had good moments, but overall, this is a position that very definitely could be addressed early in the draft.
Defensive tackle (7)
Season synopsis: Alualu started 16 games for a third consecutive season and led the Jaguars with 3.5 sacks, while Mosley was perhaps the biggest surprise along the line. He took over as the starter for Knighton, and played at a high level all season. Knighton, who played near a Pro Bowl level at times in 2010, struggled much of this past season, while Smith played as the fourth tackle much of the year before going on injured reserve late in the season. Overall, this area played well in spots, but not to the level expected two years ago when Alualu and Knighton looked like one of the NFL’s best young tandems at the position.
Where they stand: Alualu and Mosley remain under contract, and figure to be key to the rotation going forward, while Knighton will enter free agency and therefore may or may not figure into the team’s future. This is an area that likely will be addressed in the offseason – not necessarily early in the first round of the draft, but with an eye on depth and improving the future.
Season synopsis: This was a group decimated by injury from early in the season. Clint Session, signed as a free agent outside linebacker in the 2011 offseason, never returned after sustaining concussions in the 2011 season, and Smith – perhaps the team’s best defensive player – played only the final two games because of a groin injury. Posluszny set a franchise record for tackles in a season, and played at a high level in a difficult situation, but overall, the group was hurt by the loss of Smith and Session. Allen started all 16 games in place of Session, and Stanford replaced Kyle Bosworth in the lineup early in the season. The group played with effort and intensity, but never really overcame the talent level lost in the absence of Smith and Session.
Where they stand: This is an area of uncertainty entering the offseason. Smith may be the team’s best defensive player, but he is entering his 10th season and is a free agent, so his future with the team will depend on the new general manager. Posluszny is one of the more underrated middle linebackers in the NFL and is a strength, but he is considered more effective in a 4-3 than 3-4, so a scheme switch could affect his status. Allen played well and is a valuable special teams player, but overall, this is a position that could be addressed in the offseason, possibly in veteran free agency and in the middle rounds of the draft.
Season synopsis: This was an area that played well at times, and those times usually correlated to Cox being healthy. A fourth-year veteran, Cox at times was the best defensive player on the field for the Jaguars, finishing with a team-high four interceptions. Harris moved into the starting lineup late in the season as a rookie and played 15 games. Mathis, a 10-year veteran, showed signs of the aftereffects of the ACL surgery that ended his 2011 season, and Ross – who signed as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason – struggled with inconsistency and injury. Overall, this unit finished with five interceptions – four by Cox and one by Harris.
Where they stand: A decision must be made on Cox in the offseason, and that could be one of the most difficult choices facing the new general manager. He is scheduled to become a free agent, and although he is the best player in the secondary, he also has had difficulty staying healthy the past two seasons. He absolutely helps the team when healthy, but how much will a new GM be willing to invest in an unknown? That remains the question. Elsewhere, Harris emerged as a player who could compete for a starting role next offseason, and because Mathis will become a free agent, his future with the team is unknown. Another unknown is the future of Ross, who signed as a free agent last offseason, but finished the season with limited playing time – at least partly because of injuries.
Season synopsis: This was a solid position for a second consecutive year, particularly when Lowery was healthy. Landry started 16 games for a second consecutive season, while Lowery played just nine games and finished the season on injured reserve for a second consecutive season. Lowery was again a strength in coverage when healthy, defensing four passes with an interception, and Landry registered a career-high 176 tackles, third on the team. Prosinski was inconsistent at times filling in for Lowery as the starter, and Blake emerged as a strength on special teams, finishing second on the team with 13 special teams tackles.
Where they stand: Lowery and Landry appear a reliable tandem for the foreseeable future, with Landry having signed as a free agent before the 2011 season and Lowery re-signing last offseason. The Jaguars need Lowery to stay healthy, and the team probably could use an upgrade in depth here, most likely in the later rounds of the draft.