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2017 offseason: Projecting the defense


JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' defense on paper looks like an improved unit.

That's cause for a lot of hope, because the defense was in fact a good unit during the 2016 season.

What it wasn't was elite, and that's the unit's task for 2017.

While the Jaguars finished sixth in the NFL in yards allowed last season, they struggled to create turnovers and struggled in scoring defense in 2016. They also struggled to create effective pass rush at critical times, and improving those three areas is key to the team's success next season.

Offseason moves were made toward that end. The team believes it improved its secondary with the addition of safety Barry Church and cornerback A.J. Bouye as free agents, and the addition of free-agent defensive end Calais Campbell could provide a disruptive force on the line.

Moving Myles Jack from strong-side linebacker to the middle will get an athletic, speedy player on the field on all three downs, and could give the Jaguars another big-play element.

Will those moves make the Jaguars' defense elite? How does the unit look elsewhere?

Here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars' defense as of late June:

Defensive ends (five projected on final roster)

Projected starters:Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue.

Projected reserves: Dante Fowler Jr., Lerentee McCray, Dawuane Smoot.

Others: Malliciah Goodman, Jonathan Woodard, Carroll Phillips, Hunter Dimick.

The summing up:Projecting the Jaguars' defensive line is tricky because there likely will be a lot of moving parts and a lot of rotating. Campbell is perhaps the Jaguars' most-important offseason free-agent acquisition and is a reason the defense should be improved from last season. He is listed as an end, but also could play a key role as an interior pass rusher on third downs. McCray is listed as an end, but his primary contribution could come on special teams. This area needs dramatic improvement pressuring the passer, which means a lot of focus on Ngakoue and Fowler. Ngakoue registered eight sacks last season and Fowler registered four. If both can approach double-digit sacks and accompany that with consistent pressure, what was a good defense last season could be much better.

Defensive tackles (five)

Projected starters:Abry Jones, Malik Jackson.

Projected reserves:Sheldon Day, Stefan Charles, Michael Bennett.

Others:Tueni Lupeamanu, Kevin Maurice.

The summing up:This area looks strong in the starting lineup and intriguing after that. Jackson was one of the Jaguars' better defensive players last season after signing as a high-profile free agent, and Jones emerged as a front-line player after replacing an injured Roy Miller in October. Day flashed as a disruptive, penetrating player as a rookie and Bennett – after missing last season with a hip injury – impressed during the team's recent organized team activities and minicamps.

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Linebackers (six)

Projected starters:Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, Paul Posluszny.

Projected reserves: Blair Brown, Audie Cole, Josh McNary.

Others:Hayes Pullard, P.J. Davis, Justin Horton.

The summing up:This is a huge area to watch during training camp, and it's also an area that has undergone a transformation on a couple of levels. One transformation will be one of the Jaguars' most-watched training camp stories: the moving of Jack to the middle from the strong side and the accompanying move of Posluszny to the strong side from the middle. Jack is an ultra-talented player whose speed should benefit the Jaguars in the middle, but the team could miss Posluszny's experience calling the defense. All three reserves at this spot could play a key role on special teams, with Cole and McNary signed as veteran free agents and Brown being selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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Safeties (four)

Projected starters:Tashaun Gipson, Barry Church.

Projected reserves:Jarrod Wilson, Peyton Thompson.

Others:James Sample, Jarrod Harper, Charlie Miller.

The summing up:This position has undergone an overhaul in the last two seasons, with Gipson signing from Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent in the 2016 offseason and Church signing as an unrestricted free agent from Dallas in March. Both players missed the on-field portion of the offseason with injuries, but the speculation here is they will be ready for the regular season. The team is comfortable with the depth here, with both Wilson and Thompson having played extensive roles as backups last season. The team lost the run-stuffing presence of Jonathan Cyprien, who signed as a free agent with Tennessee, but Church's versatility gives the Jaguars two safeties who can be effective against the pass.

Cornerbacks (five)

Projected starters:Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye.

Projected reserves:Aaron Colvin, Jalen Myrick, Josh Johnson.

Others:Taurean Nixon, Brian Dixon, Doran Grant, Tracy Howard, Ezra Robinson, Tyler Patmon.

The summing up:This may be the Jaguars' strongest front-line position – that's the plan, anyway. Ramsey emerged as one of the NFL's top young cornerbacks as a rookie and Bouye was perhaps the most sought-after player of the unrestricted free-agent period. Some analysts have projected Bouye/Ramsey as the NFL's best young cover tandem, but a concern here is depth. Colvin has played well at nickel in three seasons and gives the Jaguars three corners who have played at a high level in the NFL. Beyond Colvin, experience is limited at the position and could be a concern if Colvin, Ramsey or Bouye are unavailable.

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