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Defense has new style, personality

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It looked good on paper, but it never worked. The personnel didn't fit the schemes, the personalities didn't mesh and the vision never materialized.

As OTAs began to unfold last year, it became apparent the Jaguars were embarking upon a brave new world, and the application of it may have been a little too dramatic. New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was attempting to install a blitz-happy, high-design defensive scheme, and new defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson was attempting to re-tool a unit that allowed 43 of 51 passes and five touchdown passes to be completed in the final six quarters of the 2007 season.

The plan didn't work. Williams' schemes had to be reeled back in after allowing game-breaking plays early in the season, and Henderson's ultra-demanding ways and hard-edged style didn't mesh with the personalities of his players.

This year, the Jaguars' efforts to reclaim their reputation for strong defense will begin with a return to head coach Jack Del Rio's philosophy for how it should be done, and it's likely new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was, in fact, hired for his disposition.

Tucker is a soft-spoken disciplinarian. Whereas Henderson spoke his mind, Tucker measures his words.

"We have to improve overall fundamentally, in terms of our techniques. Secondly, we have to enhance our communication, verbally and with hand signals, making sure we're all on the same page," Tucker said. "We have a mix of guys. We have to develop guys and bring them along. We have to work with the veteran guys to make sure they can do what we think they can do."

Tucker takes over a defense with problems up front and in the back, and that's not a good combination. The questions are many: Can John Henderson return to his form of a few years ago? Is Derrick Harvey the pass-rusher the Jaguars drafted him to be? Can third-round draft choice Derek Cox take control of the right cornerback job? Will former first-round pick Reggie Nelson recover from a disappointing season?

"I'm going to coach what shows up on grass," Tucker said.

In other words, he's not going to worry about the questions. He'll accept the answers.

"Our scheme is going to be a little different; back to what it was two years ago," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Last year it was a mix of Gregg (Williams') and coach Del Rio's. Now it's more like coach Del Rio's history. It's going to be a downhill defense; attack, attack, attack."

It was supposed to have been an attacking scheme last season, but every time the Jaguars attacked, they got burned, beginning in the season-opener in Tennessee, when Nelson got out of position on a tight end screen play.

"The first game or two we were attacking. Toward the middle and end of the year we were more on our heels," Landri said. "We're going to take control more of the way this defense has been in the past. We're going to play to win, not just be on the field. There's an objective, to score. It's not just about making a tackle or making a big hit. It's about getting the ball back and making a score."

Del Rio is emphasizing the need to create turnovers. He wants his defense to make big plays.

"Once we get guys playing with that nasty attitude we had in 2007, we'll be right back to where we were," Landri added.

Rashean Mathis enjoyed a productive season in '08, even though his personality didn't mesh with that of his position coach. There was a clash. It says a lot about Mathis that he maintained a high level of play, which included four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

"I think I had one bad game," Mathis said, referring to a sub-par performance in a loss to the Bengals. "I think I played good. The matchups I had," which included Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Santonio Holmes, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards, Ocho Cinco and Calvin Johnson, "I think I played well."

Tucker's personality is a better fit for Mathis, which probably factored into Tucker being hired. Through seven practices this spring, Tucker has yet to raise his voice.

"You can be a yeller, as long as the yelling is not disrespectful. That's when coaches lose ball teams. We're men. We have families," Mathis said.

No one has to raise their voice to tell Mathis his performance this season is critical to the Jaguars' hope of recovery. He's the star of the Jaguars defense and has to play to that level.

"I know I have to succeed for us to win ballgames," Mathis said, then adding of Tucker: "I like him. He's a mellow guy. He's a good people person. He's very pleasant, very approachable. Everybody should be approachable."

On paper, it looks good.

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