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2016 offseason: Defensive tackles


JACKSONVILLE – Todd Wash was gifted a problem his predecessor, Bob Babich, never had.

Wash, who took over as defensive coordinator in January after serving as defensive line coach/run-game coordinator last season, is in charge of the Jaguars' defense in what looks to be a pivotal year for Head Coach Gus Bradley – and he has more talent than he knows what to do with.

Okay, that's probably a stretch, but Wash knows he has more players to work with than the defense has had the last three seasons.

"No doubt, [Jaguars General Manager] Dave [Caldwell] and Gus have done a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball," Wash said last month when a mandatory veteran minicamp wrapped up the offseason calendar. "Now, it's our job to find ways to utilize everything they've given us and get better … quickly."

Nowhere on the roster does Wash's current conundrum showcase itself better than his defensive tackles. Caldwell's quick strike and big offer to defensive tackle Malik Jackson during unrestricted free agency in March created a seismic shift at a position where the Jaguars already felt relatively good.

Jackson, a key member of the Denver Broncos' dominant Super Bowl-winning defense last season, will work in tandem with nose-tackle Roy Miller to give the Jaguars a pair of oversized run stuffers. But Jackson's pass-rush ability is a major upgrade from last season – and with Sen'Derrick Marks expecting to be 100 percent by this fall, the defensive-tackle position certainly seems stacked.

"Man, we've got some horses for sure." Marks said in an obvious understatement. "You look at how many combinations of guys we can rotate and you think it's going to be tough to for those guys on the other side of the line."

So where – or perhaps the question is, "how?" – do the Jaguars utilize second-year tackle Michael Bennett, who Wash said made progress as 2015 came to a close? And how will the Jaguars utilize Sheldon Day, a 2016 fourth-round selection whose quick feet and strong hands make him look like a guy who will create the kinds of problems Marks mentioned?

"Right now, I'm just focused on learning from those guys (Marks and Jackson)," Day said. "Whatever he (Wash) wants put me down for. I can play the run or get to the quarterback."

Competition for a job is something we haven't seen in Jacksonville for some time – real competition that could squeeze good, young players off the roster by the time the preseason ends in early September. The Jaguars figure to keep nine defensive linemen – and with Bradley's scheme in need of more edge pass rushers, it's safe to assume only four defensive tackles – though no one who has a strong August is going to find himself looking for a job.

Still, with names like those mentioned above – and with Jared Odrick, Tyson Alualu, Abry Jones, Dante Fowler Jr.and others – the heat will be on in every drill let alone every preseason game.

"I've competed for everything I've ever got," Bennett said. "I'm not afraid of competition and I don't think anyone in our room is, either. That's what it takes to build a great team and we have a great group in the D-line room. I can't wait for camp."

Bradley in three seasons has preached competition to the point that some outsiders may have grown weary of reading the words. This summer is a completely different level of competition for a Jaguars franchise that in recent years has had guys with whom they hoped to be able to compete. Now they've improved to the point where the proverbial iron should sharpen the iron.

In other words, this roster has a lot more talent and the addition of players such as Jackson and Day at defensive tackle should make for great theater during camp – and perhaps greater results come the fall.

"I know one thing is for certain," Wash said. "There won't be any easy days for that group in camp and it won't all be from me. They'll push each other and we'll be better for it."

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