So far, Mark Duffner said he has felt a lot of positives about the new Jaguars coaching staff.
That became even more true Friday morning.
Sylvester Croom, the head coach at Mississippi State from 2004-2008 and the St. Louis Rams' running backs coach the past three seasons, officially joined Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey's coach staff as running backs coach on Friday morning.
Duffner, the Jaguars' linebackers coach since 2006, worked with Croom in Green Bay in 2003 and called Croom a "dandy coach."
"That's a big hit for us," Duffner said.
Croom, 57, played for Alabama from 1972-74, and spent 11 seasons as a coach with the Crimson Tide. He has coached in the NFL since 1987 with the exception of his five seasons with Mississippi State, and spent four seasons – 1997-2000 – as offensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions.
He is the fourth coach on staff with NFL offensive coordinator experience, with the others being Mularkey, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson.
Duffner called Croom a "very disciplined coach, a very fundamental coach, a very good evaluator of physical talent and people talent, a very good communicator, a high-character person."
With the hiring of Croom, Mularkey now has hired 14 assistants: Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker, Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks Coach Greg Olson, Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego, Bratkowski , Assistant Special Teams Coach Craig Aukerman, Defensive Assistant Coach Brandon Blaney, Croom, Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen, Duffner, Tight Ends Coach Bobby Johnson, Assistant Secondary Coach Marlon McCree, Secondary Coach Tony Oden, Assistant Defensive Line Coach Paul Spicer and Wide Receivers Coach Jerry Sullivan.
Mularkey has yet to hire an offensive line coach or strength coach.
"Mike has done a great job right now with what I would consider a very formidable staff – guys with great experience, guys that have had a lot of success and I think the chemistry is going to be real good also," Duffner said. "So I think he's done a great job."
*Bratkowski said his philosophy on offense is very similar to that of Mularkey in that it emphasizes balance and a physical running style. The two worked together in Pittsburgh from 1999-2000 and Bratkowski worked as quarterbacks coach with Mularkey as offensive coordinator in Atlanta this past season. "In this league, you're either dishing it out, or you're taking it," Bratkowski said Friday. "We're going to be one of those teams that dishes it out. You can't say you're going to be a physical team if you don't place great emphasis on the run game, which we will do."
*Bratkowski said while the Jaguars will emphasize the run he understands the importance of an effective passing offense. "The teams that are successful can push the ball down the field and create chunk plays," he said. "Instead of drives being 14 and 16 plays, when you're able to run it and get big chunk plays, you put yourself less at risk of something going wrong. You have to be able to make those down the field plays."
*Bratkowski said a productive running game will only help the development of quarterback Blaine Gabbert. "Any quarterback in the league, his best friend is a good running game," Bratkowski said. "If he can rely on the run and you can pick and choose when you want to take your shots down the field, and be in 3rd-and-5 or less, whether it's using the running game or pass game, you have a chance to be successful. Those third downs are easier to convert when you're in 3rd-and-5 or less."
*Bratkowski called the wide receiver coaching position "very important. You have to have a guy with experience at the position who can handle the personalities. You have to have someone who can handle the personalities at that position. That position usually has some guys who are energetic. You need a guy who's not going to be backed down by them and can tell them the truth and tell them, 'Hey, just be quiet and do your job.'''
*Duffner said he was glad for the opportunity to keep much of the staff together from a defense that improved from 28th in the NFL in 2010 to No. 6 last season. "We worked real hard to put together schematically a defense last year that closely fit our players and of course they went out and made it happen," he said. "So we're anxious to keep that going, keep the continuity of that and then improve on that."
*Duffner said while he had options this off-season, he wanted to remain with the Jaguars. "When you put a lot of effort and energy into something and you see it going the direction that you want it to go, then you're not very anxious to turn it over to someone else," he said, adding, "I had known Mike [Mularkey] before and when that all started to transpire, it's been very, very good. He's putting together a staff that is, I know many of them and know of their abilities. It's going to be real exciting here."
*Duffner said part of the team's off-season evaluation process could include trying to figure ways to keep linebackers on the field on third downs more. "That will be something we'll look at – the players that we've got on each down, what gives us the best chance to win that down? That's a good problem we have right now and it is hard. Is this player going to be more productive on this snap than another player? I think we've got linebackers that have absolute value and they'd like to be out there on third down. We'll see how that all plays out in terms of who plays, their strengths."