(Ed. Note—This is the final installment in a five-part series that previews the positional competition in training camp. Today's installment features the defensive backs and special teams.)
They believe they've solved the right cornerback position that had troubled them. They have their hard-hitting strong safety back in the lineup following a season lost to knee surgery.
Is this the best secondary in Jaguars history and will it cause this to be the Jaguars' best all-time defense?
Brian Williams will be closely watched in training camp. The Jaguars spent $10 million on Williams in free agency and he's being counted on to be a top performer at right cornerback, a weak spot on a very good defense the past two seasons.
Williams becomes a one-two punch with left cornerback Rashean Mathis, who's ready to take his game to a Pro Bowl level. Mathis leads all defensive backs selected in the 2003 draft in interceptions with 12. He's one of 49 defensive backs selected in '03 and joins Dallas cornerback Terrence Newman as the only players to start all 48 games since being drafted. Eight defensive backs were selected ahead of Mathis in '03, including six in the first round. Mathis led the Jaguars with five interceptions last season.
Deon Grant welcomes Donovin Darius back at safety. Darius is coming off knee reconstruction and was practicing full speed at the end of spring drills. Darius will make the Jaguars better against the run but will he be a liability in pass-coverage? Training camp will help address that concern.
Gerald Sensabaugh caught Jack Del Rio's eye as a rookie last year and Sensabaugh will push for more playing time at safety this summer.
The most intense competition in the secondary this summer will be for the "nickel" back's job. Scott Starks, a third-round pick in 2005, and Dee Webb, a seventh-round pick this year, may be the top challengers to veteran Terry Cousin, who performed in the role admirably last year.
Other competitors in the defensive backfield are: cornerbacks David Richardson, Chris Roberson, Edorian McCullough and George Trestin. Safety Nick Sorensen plies his trade on special teams.
Punter Chris Hanson didn't enjoy the best statistical year of his career last season, but there's nothing to indicate Hanson's job is in jeopardy. The Jaguars added veteran punter Toby Gowin to the roster in the spring.
Kicker Josh Scobee is alone on the roster. His competition is with himself to become more accurate from placement. His leg strength makes him one of the best kickoff artists in the league.
Veteran long-snapper Joe Zelenka remains a consistent performer, and Andrew Economos spent last season on the practice squad.
The top special teams battle will be for the number one returner's job. The Jaguars drafted Maurice Drew to fill that role and all eyes will be on him during special teams practices.