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A mid-March look: Defense

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JACKSONVILLE – We move forward today in this look at the roster, and Day 2 is a different beast than Day 1.

That's because Day 2 features more change and uncertainty than Day 1.

Day 2 in this mid-March, post-free-agency look at the Jaguars' roster focuses on defense, and defense has been – and will continue to be – the organization's major offseason focus.

The Jaguars must improve depth, speed and athleticism around the entire defense – and around much of the starting lineup, too. That's the reality for a unit that finished 24th in the NFL in total yards allowed last season, and that particularly struggled on third downs and passing situations.

The team made major free-agent moves last week by signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson, free safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara. The next major phase will be the April 28-30 NFL Draft, where most of the Jaguars' eight draft selections will be on defense.

With that in mind – and with the first wave of 2016 free agency in the rearview – here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars' defense:

 

Defensive end/Leo

Starter:Dante Fowler Jr.

Others:Ryan Davis, Chris Smith, Quanterus Smith.

Additions:None.

Departures:Andre Branch, Chris Clemons.

Outlook:This is easily the most-scrutinized position on the Jaguars' roster this offseason. It's not only a key position to the pass rush, but the team has thus far failed to sign a free-agent edge rusher after pursuing Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, who they believed the market's only front-line edge rusher. From the team's perspective, that leaves the Leo needing depth. That's because the Jaguars believe Fowler – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft – should provide pressure, and they also believe pressure can and will come from other front-seven positions. Look for the Jaguars' pass rush not to be as "Leo-centric" next season, though Fowler's return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him his rookie season will be perhaps the team's dominant training-camp storyline.

 

Defensive end/strong side

Starter:Jared Odrick.

Backup:Tyson Alualu.

*Additions: *None.

Departures:None.

Outlook:This area looks thinner on paper than it is in reality. Odrick likely will be the starter with Alualu the backup in base situations, but the defensive line almost certainly will feature many moving parts with different looks depending on packages. Jackson, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from Denver, likely will start at three-technique tackle, but he will play all over the line of scrimmage and could play a lot of "strong-side end" in passing situations. However they line up, Odrick/Alualu/Jackson make this a strong area.

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Defensive tackles

Starters:Roy Miller, Malik Jackson.

Others:Sen'Derrick Marks, Michael Bennett, Abry Jones, Richard Ash.

Additions:Jackson.

Departures:None.

Outlook:Like the strong-side end position – and in a sense, like the entire defensive line – this is a tricky position to pigeon-hole in a position-by-position breakdown. While Jackson and Miller likely will be listed as the starters, Marks is a critical player to the entire defensive front and likely will play side-by-side with Jackson in a lot of situations. Marks and Jackson combined are particularly critical to the team's pass rush, which will depend on their penetrating ability no matter where they line up. Miller also remains key to the line, having played at or near a Pro Bowl level at the nose-tackle position last season. The Jaguars plan to play in "waves" along the defensive front, and the depth here should make that possible.

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Linebackers

Starters:WLB Telvin Smith, MLB Paul Posluszny, OLB Dan Skuta.

Others:Thurston Armbrister, Hayes Pullard, Joplo Bartu (OLB), Jordan Tripp (OLB), Sean Porter (OLB).

Additions:None.

Departures:None.

Outlook:As it the case with a lot of the front seven, the look of the linebacker position will vary depending on situations. Posluszny remains key, particularly in base packages, and he likely will remain there next season with Skuta and Smith starting. In passing situations, a drafted player could play a role alongside Smith in coverage with Skuta expected to play more of a pass-rushing role than last season. That doesn't necessarily mean Skuta shifting to a "Leo" role in those situations, but Skuta playing closer to the line and providing pressure almost certainly will be part of the pass-rush approach next season. Look for this to be a major emphasis during the draft, with the team focusing on increasing speed and depth at the position.

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Cornerbacks

Starters:Davon House, Prince Amukamara.

Others:Aaron Colvin, Dwayne Gratz, Demetrius McCray, Nick Marshall, Peyton Thompson.

Additions:Amukamara.

Departures: None.

Outlook:This isn't a position in flux as much as it is a deeper, more-talented position now than a week ago. The signing of Amukamara significantly solidifies the spot and gives the Jaguars what is necessary in the modern era of the NFL: three corners who can play at a high level. Look for House and Amukamara to start on the outside, while Colvin focuses on the nickel corner at which he excelled as a rookie for the final six games of the 2016 season. Colvin started on the outside last season, moving inside in passing situations, but Amukamara's signing means that's no longer necessary.

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Safeties

Starters:Johnathan Cyprien (strong safety), Tashaun Gipson (free safety).

Others:Sergio Brown, Josh Evans, James Sample, Craig Loston, Earl Wolff.

Arrivals:Gipson.

Departures:None.

Outlook:There may have been no more important signing than Gipson, and he will be a major storyline next season. Will he indeed be the effective, play-making safety that has been so needed in this defense for three seasons? If so, then a huge piece of the puzzle defensively has been filled. His presence also could enable the Jaguars to play Cyprien as a true run-oriented "box" safety, a position at which they believe he can truly excel. A player to watch here is Sample, who could push Cyprien and could be a key player in the secondary. The Jaguars love his potential, but he played just four games before sustaining a shoulder injury that eventually resulted in him being placed on injured reserve in mid-November.

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