JACKSONVILLE – Today, we get defensive.
After starting our position-by-position look at the Jaguars on Wednesday focusing on the offense, we move today to defense and special teams.
The defense on the surface entering the offseason wasn't expected to undergo a major overhaul. But there were significant changes. When next season begins, there could be at least five new starters on the unit, including four players signed as unrestricted free agents and rookie edge rusher/Leo Dante Fowler Jr., the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars' defense entering the weekend's 2015 rookie minicamp:
Defensive end (8)
Players: Dante Fowler Jr. (Leo), Jared Odrick, Chris Clemons (Leo), Tyson Alualu, Ryan Davis (Leo), Andre Branch (Leo), Chris Smith (Leo), Ikponmwosa Igbinosun.
Analysis: The good news for the Jaguars is that this was a very productive, effective position last season. The better news is it could be a better, more-effective, more-productive position this season. That's primarily because of a couple of additions – one through free agency and one through the draft. Odrick, signed as an unrestricted free agent from Miami, will replace Red Bryant as the starter at the team's strong-side, five-technique end spot. He will rotate with Alualu, who played as well or better than Bryant while essentially rotating snaps last season. Clemons registered eight sacks last season from the Leo pass-rushing position with Davis registering 6.5 as an interior rusher and Branch registering three in a season shortened by a groin injury. Fowler will compete with Clemons, but should be on the field in a prominent or starting role quickly.
Defensive tackle (6)
Players:Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Ziggy Hood, Abry Jones, Michael Bennett, Eric Crume.
Analysis: The offseason storylines will focus on injuries to Marks and Miller, and those are indeed critical storylines. Marks, the team's best defensive player the past two seasons, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the season finale last season. He is rehabilitating the injury and aiming to return before the regular-season opener. Still, his status could mean an increased early-season role for Hood and early opportunity for Bennett, a sixth-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft who many analysts had as a second- or third-round selection. Miller underwent arthroscopic surgery shortly after the season, but he is expected to be ready for training camp. This was an area of strength last season; if Marks returns to form, it should remain that way.
Starters:Telvin Smith, Paul Posluszny, Dan Skuta, Khairi Fortt, Jeremiah George, John Lotulelei, LaRoy Reynolds, Thurston Armbrister, Matt Robinson, Todd Thomas.
Analysis: The Jaguars' starters here are solid; it's the depth that's a bit of a question. Smith, a fifth-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, played at a high level after moving into the starting lineup late last season. His speed and athleticism give him the potential to be a future Pro Bowl-level player. Posluszny, who is expected to participate fully in the offseason after a season-ending Week 7 pectoral tear last season, remains key to the defense and also remains one of the league's better run-defending middle linebackers. Skuta, signed as an unrestricted free agent from San Francisco, will start at the team's Otto position and also brings some pass-rush ability the team lacked at the position last season.
Players:Demetrius McCray, Davon House, Aaron Colvin, Dwayne Gratz, Rashaad Reynolds, Jeremy Harris, Tommy Campbell, Nick Marshall, Peyton Thompson.
Analysis:It was common to see cornerback listed as a "need" area entering the draft, but that's not the feeling around the organization. McCray, a seventh-round selection in 2013, played at a high level throughout much of his first season as a starter last season and the Jaguars believe House – who signed as an unrestricted free agent in March from Green Bay – has the skill set in press coverage to excel in Head Coach Gus Bradley's defense. Colvin played remarkably well in his role as a nickel last season, and the belief is he has the ability to be one of the league's best at that spot.
Players:Johnathan Cyprien, Sergio Brown, James Sample, Josh Evans, Matt Daniels, Craig Loston, Jeremy Deering.
Analysis:The Jaguars made two notable offseason moves to improve the free safety position, signing Sergio Brown as an unrestricted free agent and selecting Sample in the fourth round of the draft from Louisville. Brown will open the offseason as the starter, but the Jaguars like Sample's potential and that could be a training-camp battle to watch. Cyprien is the starter at strong safety and like several third-year players is at the point of his career where a jump in consistency and production is necessary. Evans, a starter in 25 games in his first two seasons, will begin the offseason as the backup strong safety behind Cyprien.
Special teams (6)
Players:Josh Scobee (K), Bryan Anger (P), Carson Tinker (LS), Derek Dimke (K), Jason Myers (K), Kasey Redfern (P).
Analysis: Scobee and Anger remain solid in their positions. No change is expected here.