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2018 OTAs: Quarterback of the secondary

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JACKSONVILLE – Barry Church is fine with the role. In fact, he cherishes it.

The quarterback of the secondary …

That’s what Jaguars defensive backs coach Perry Fewell called the ninth-year veteran safety, who is equal parts playmaker, leader, “old man” and calming presence for perhaps the best secondary in franchise history – a group that ranks among the NFL’s best units.

“When you have a secondary, people don’t think in terms of ‘quarterback,” Fewell said this week during Week 3 of Jaguars 2018 Organized Team Activities at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. “Barry Church is our ‘quarterback’ in the secondary. He is our quarterback on the defense.

“He makes a lot of calls, checks, the motions and adjustments. He is kind of the voice of reason. He is a very mature individual, and he is a very humble individual. To deal with our personalities we have in our back row and to deal with our communication system with [defensive coordinator] Coach [Todd] Wash and relaying that information and getting everybody on the same page …

“Barry is invaluable from that standpoint. You have to have somebody like that to make our system or a system work. He is that kind of man.”

Church this week spoke with jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser, discussing his role as a leader and other issues regarding the Jaguars’ secondary:

Q: The secondary had a great season last season, contributing to a franchise-record 21 interceptions. How do you get better?

A: You can’t rest on your laurels. You can’t go out and say, “We did great last year, so we don’t have to try as hard this year to be great. We’ll just pick up where we left off.” You can’t do that. The league changes every year. Everybody watches film to check out your strengths and weaknesses and attack them the next year. What we’ve been doing as a unit is breaking down our own film. We’ve been seeing it as individuals and as a unit – and we’ve been able to address that during OTAs. We’re communicating better. A lot of us are second- and third-year guys in the system now. We know the defense like the backs of our hands. We have to continue to get better.

Q: How important is what you just mentioned – this being the second and third seasons in this system for most of the secondary?

A: It’s huge, especially at the spot where we [the safeties] are. We have to communicate from sideline to sideline with our corners and everyone in the middle. To know how we each play the game is huge. Gip (free safety Tashaun Gipson) is more aggressive when it comes to the pass than I am. In some cases, I might be more aggressive to the run than Gip. Now that we know each other, now that we have a year under our belt, now that we know the system, we don’t have to take time to say, “Who do I have on this one?” We already know it. It makes us better as a whole. Hopefully we can pick up where we left off but at a better pace.

Q: It would be easy to say this group peaked last season. Two All-Pro cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, two safeties with four interceptions each …

A: Not at all. You have two of the best corners on the outside and two of the best safeties on the inside. That was our first year playing together, and that was my first year in the system – and A.J.’s first year in the system. There were a lot of learning things we had to get through. We struggled here and there, but with everybody at least in their second season communication is unbelievable.

Q: So, you already see a difference there?

A: Both me and Gip know the defense like the back of our hands. We can even tell the linebackers and the young defensive linemen … we know where everyone has to be, and that makes it a lot easier. We’re going to pick up more as we go on in this training camp, but I think this will be a bigger year for us interception-wise.

Q: I know breakout plays bothered you as a secondary last season …

A: Teams rarely drove the ball on us. It was either a big, chunk play – or a mistake. A lot of that had to do with communication. A lot of that had to do with, “We thought we were in this defense,” or “We thought we had this responsibility.” Now, having everybody back for the most part and everybody getting in their playbook, and knowing what we have to do. We should be eliminating that big, chunk play going into the season.

Q: Head Coach Doug Marrone and secondary coach Perry Fewell both have talked about you being the voice of reason in an emotional, talented secondary. That seems to be a role in which you have flourished…

A: I learned a lot in my days in Dallas, being around a veteran team like that – the [tight end] Jason Wittens of the world, the [linebacker] Sean Lees of the world, those types of guys. I learned a lot about being a vocal leader. Communication is vital back there, especially in this defense. When I came in, I took it upon myself to learn the playbook like I had been here for years and years. I was able to communicate and let those guys do what they had to do. This year, with those guys knowing what they have to do already, I’ll be able to do a lot more this year knowing I don’t have to direct traffic.

Q: You obviously have real personalities out there with you. How do you lead a group like that?

A: I treat every one of them like the grown man they are. If I tell a guy, “Hey, you have to do this,” and you don’t want to listen to me … I’m not going to force you to listen to me. I’ll let you make the mistake on the field. Then, when you come to me and say, “I know I should have done that …” If you don’t want to heed my advice, you have to learn through it. I treat them all like grown men, which they are. That’s how we’ve been doing it. So far, so good.

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