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Defense continues camp dominance


It's a defense that lost six starters and five of its front seven. The salary cap axe clearly fell hardest on the defense and, logically, the Jaguars began this training camp with the majority of their concerns on that side of the ball.

So why is it that defense is thoroughly dominating this training camp, as it did again this morning?

"To tell you the defense hasn't had more good days than the offense would be foolish. Our defense has created more problems for our offense than vice versa," coach Tom Coughlin admitted.

Offense is Coughlin's expertise, but he knows the value of defense setting the tone in training camp.

"That's the way you'd like to see it happen. You'd like it to be a physical camp and the defense dominate," Coughlin said.

It was that way in the summer of 1999, when new defensive coordinator Dom Capers pumped life into a much criticized defense and that unit dominated the action in that training camp. The Jaguars went on to a league-best 14-2 record and Capers' defense spent 10 weeks with the league's number one ranking.

"It's a '99 camp," Coughlin said of this summer's version. "It appears to have the opportunity to be a more physical group," he said of his team in general and his defense in particular.

This morning, quarterback Mark Brunell and company were reduced to another exercise in frustration. Passes fell incomplete at an alarming rate. Running back Fred Taylor expressed frustration when he couldn't turn the corner on a sweep. Another great practice for the defense, and cornerback Jason Craft was leading the way.

"Craft has made an awful lot of plays," Coughlin said.

It was a trend that began late last season. A rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball caused Coughlin to use young backups, and they responded with surprisingly impressive performances. Craft led the way then, too.

Now those young backups are starters and they would seem to be proving in this training camp they are better than the players they replaced. In fact, you might make the point the Jaguars were trapped by the salary cap a year ago.

"Danny Clark has been very physical. Eric Westmoreland we're counting on heavily," Coughlin said in commenting on his young linebackers.

Young names are dominating the defensive landscape: Marcus Stroud, John Henderson, Akin Ayodele, Kiwaukee Thomas, Marlon McCree, James Boyd, etc.

This Friday, we'll see them in game action, in the preseason opener in Atlanta. Coughlin seemed to be energized by the prospects his defense would seem to be offering.

"We're ready to play. You need the game to evaluate where you are. As a defensive team, I think our coverage schemes have come along well," he said. "It's the first preseason game. It may not be pretty, but if I get the effort … we can create some positive things."

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