JACKSONVILLE – The process is very much still a process.
When it comes to revitalizing the Jaguars' defense, Head Coach Gus Bradley said that's to be expected, and that installing new schemes and establishing a new philosophy will take time. Still...
Bradley said as the veteran portion of the 2013 offseason program draws to a close this week, he is starting to see what the Jaguars' defense will be and that there are times he indeed likes what he sees.
"I see flashes of it," Bradley said recently during the 2013 offseason, which ends this week with a three-day minicamp at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.
"It takes time and it might take time through training camp and preseason and into the season you'll see it. I think what you'll see is it just keeps getting better and better and we talked about slow, steady improvement and keep raising the bar every day."
The Jaguars' defense, after ranking sixth in the NFL in 2011, slipped to 30th last season – 30th against the run and 22nd against the pass. The team also ranked last in sacks, continuing a recent trend of struggling to create pressure.
Reshaping the unit began early in the offseason, shortly after Bradley's hiring.
Almost immediately, the Jaguars began overhauling the secondary, opting to not re-sign veteran cornerbacks Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis and Will Middleton, and releasing cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Dawan Landry. They then drafted five defensive backs, with safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz expected to start, and safety Josh Evans and cornerbacks Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray competing for time. The team also signed veteran Marcus Trufant, who is competing with second-year corner Mike Harris for a nickel role.
That's huge change in the back, and while the major change at linebacker is the departure of Daryl Smith and the signing of Geno Hayes at outside linebacker, the defensive line also has undergone a major change.
Tyson Alualu, a starter at tackle the past three seasons, is working outside this offseason, with veteran Jason Babin – acquired off waivers late last season – expected to start at the Leo end/linebacker position opposite Alualu. Gone from the interior are Terrance Knighton, C.J. Mosley and Jeris Pendleton, with free-agents Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love and D'Anthony Smith possibilities on the interior.
In all, there could be new starters at least seven of 11 positions, including three positions along the line and in the secondary.
Bradley promised competition upon his arrival, and said that completion could mean significant turnover. Posluszny said that's exactly what has happened.
"You kind of put your head down and go, but the boss has said that's how it is," Posluszny said. "He's going to be bringing in a lot of guys. There's going to be a lot of competition and young guys are going to play right away. By not only him, but the General Manager (David Caldwell) saying that from the start, they weren't joking.
"That's going to be the case and that's going to be the atmosphere we're going to compete in."
The change has been more than personnel. The Jaguars' defense last season played mostly a base 4-3 package, with little emphasis on blitz and few exotic packages behind it. Bradley's defense, which emerged as one of the best in the NFL in Seattle the past few seasons, isn't blitz-based, but it emphasizes athleticism, speed, press, man-to-man coverage from the corners and extensive "single-high" safety play.
"We're all still learning, and we're all kind of learning each other," safety Dwight Lowery said. "We're still learning the defense, and we haven't seen every look yet, every defense. You can compare it a little to last year as far as what is different stylistically, but it's hard to say when you haven't seen it in different situations.
"It's going to be aggressive in nature, maybe not aggressive as far as blitzing like how it was when I was with the Jets. There, our pressure was based on blitz. Here, it's based on challenging receivers on the outside and getting after the ball. When you create that mindset about getting to the ball, and the most important thing on the field is the ball, then that creates a more aggressive defensive by nature."
The scheme has the same emphasis throughout the defense, Alualu said.
"It feels like a whole different defense," Alualu said. "I feel like it's for the better of the team. I think it will definitely help us to be an overall better defense.
"I just think we'll be able to make more plays, the whole team in general – just be able to make big plays. The emphasis the coaches put on us is that it's all about the ball -- not just making plays, but making impact plays, where we can get the ball back and allow our offense to score.
"Our mentality is when we get the ball back we want to score. It's emphasized every day."
Bradley said the emphasis in the offseason – and where he sees the most progress – is in communication. Without pads, there is a limit to evaluation, but he said there are times when he sees the beginning of cohesion taking place.
"A classic example will be in the back end like with Cyprien and D-Lo (Dwight Lowery) working together and getting an opportunity and a feel where everybody's going to be," Bradley said. "Some of our drops D-Lo has to know where Paul's going to be and where Russell (Allen) is. We don't want to be right where we're going to be at the start of the season. We hope to continue all the way throughout."
Bradley said that increasingly has been an emphasis in OTA and offseason practices. "That's why you're seeing us move the ball in more situations and when the coaches are off the field," he said. "I challenge them for us right now with our coaches. We lead. The coaches will lead right now until they feel like they can take it over. We're not going to wait for someone to take it over. We'll lead. We'll lead this whole thing but eventually they need to take ownership of it and take it over."
That process, players said, has yet to be complete, and it's one that likely will continue when the pads go on to start training camp.
"It's going to develop now through training camp, all through training camp and the preseason even into the regular season," Lowery said.
And while the process is still a process, players and coaches alike said as OTAs come to an end, there can be seen the beginnings of what the Jaguars' defense will be. And slowly but surely, they're starting to like a lot about what they see.
"There are a lot of changes right now for our entire defense, there's no doubt about that," Posluszny said. "But the more we practice, the more we're out there, the more we start to mesh and communicate, the better we'll be. We still have a long way to go until we're smooth and everything's operating like it should, but we're moving in the right direction.
"We have our mentality of what we want to become. We're not there yet, but defensively, what we're going to be, what are going to be our go-to schemes: that's what we're working on now."