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Week in focus: Disruptive force

Posted May 19, 2017

Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was around the Jaguars while looking ahead to next week’s beginning of 2017 organized team activities at EverBank Field


DISRUPTIVE FORCE

This past week around the Jaguars was mostly about rookie signings.

More on that late in this week’s “Week in Focus,” but first we’ll take a closer look at one of the two players still unsigned: defensive end Dawuane Smoot.

A third-round selection from the University of Illinois, Smoot was among the more misunderstood of the team’s seven 2017 NFL Draft selections – mostly because he was selected with several well-known offensive linemen still on the board.

While observers wondered about Smoot over such players, an offseason priority for the Jaguars was ensuring their defensive front can pressure opposing quarterbacks in waves.

Mike Phair, defensive line coach at Illinois, said Smoot absolutely can contribute in that vein.

“He’s very disruptive,” Phair said. “His lateral movement is extremely good. That’s what he’s really good at. He’s an all-around athlete and can be very effective.”

Phair said he received pre-draft calls about Smoot from both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive teams.

“You had a little bit of everything,” Phair said. “You can do a lot of things with him. He’s a multiple guy, where you can play him on the left side on first and second down, and then I let him rush off the edge on third down and you can also move him inside.

“He can do a whole bunch of things for you, because he’s really athletic, and a lot of things he does he does with ease.”

The Jaguars during the draft emphasized Smoot’s ability to play a large number of snaps, with Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin noting that playing in a rotation at the NFL level should benefit Smoot.

Phair recalled a game against Michigan State this past season in which Smoot played 92 snaps.

“I knew he’d been playing too much, but he didn’t want to come out,” Phair said. “If you look at the game, he never got tired. He’s a durable guy. He could go all day. To me, that said a lot about hm. That’s the stuff you can’t see in the stats.”

Smoot (6-feet-3, 264 pounds), selected No. 68 overall, Smoot, registered 2.5 sacks as a sophomore and eight as a junior before finishing with five sacks as a senior. Smoot, a team captain at Illinois, finished sixth in school history with 16.5 career sacks and had 38.5 career tackles for loss.

Phair said the drop in sacks last season wasn’t reflective of Smoot’s play.

“Just watch the tape,” Phair said. “He was productive on the field. When people just go off numbers, I don’t view it like that. If you watch the film, he was a productive guy. He’s just a good football player.”

 

AROUND THE JAGUARS

*Five of the Jaguars’ ’17 draft selections have signed their rookie deals: first-round running back Leonard Fournette, fourth-round wide receiver Dede Westbrook, fifth-round linebacker Blair Brown, seventh-round cornerback Jalen Myrick and seventh-round fullback Marquez Williams. Only Smoot and second-round offensive lineman Cam Robinson are unsigned. The rookie wage scaled implemented in the 2011 CBA has eliminated the megadeals that often crippled teams selecting in the Top 5 and has made lengthy rookie negotiations almost obsolete. It almost hard to believe rookies once held out of training camp not for days but weeks. Call that a change the NFL and the NFL Players Association got strikingly right. …

*Westbrook is a player with elite quickness and athleticism, parlaying that into a Biletnikoff Award-winning season for Oklahoma in 2016 and a fourth-place finish in Heisman Trophy balloting. His task now: transition from a spread offense to an NFL. “Of course me coming from a spread offense, it’s been a bit difficult,” Westbrook said upon signing his deal Tuesday. “I come from a spread offense where you signal one individual route, which is what you have, to reading the whole sequence of a play. It’s a bit different for me, but I’m getting it down.” Westbrook’s quickness and speed has caused many to believe he will play slot receiver in the NFL. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said Westbrook worked outside at rookie minicamp. While he may indeed play slot as a rookie, his future could be on the outside. …

*A notable quote this week from Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell, who signed in March as an unrestricted free agent from Arizona: “I wouldn’t say I was surprised by it, but the team is young. I knew that coming in, but the team is young. There are a lot of guys in that fourth or fifth year. There aren’t a lot of guys in that seven-plus range.” Campbell is correct. Sixth-and-seven-year experience has been a factor notably absent in recent seasons. If you consider – as many do – the Jaguars’ core the 2014 draft class that includes linebacker Telvin Smith, wide receivers Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns, etc., the core now is in its fourth season. That makes this a more experienced team than recent seasons, though still by any measure a young team. ….

*Phase 3 of the Jaguars’ 2017 offseason program will begin Tuesday at EverBank Field. That day marks the first practice of “organized team activities,” meaning while there can be no contact, there can be 11-on-11, 9-on-7 and 7-on-7 drills. This is the closest thing to real practice there is in the NFL offseason. The Jaguars will have OTA practices Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; they are closed to the public. ….

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