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Defensive line holds the key


An old cigarette slogan suggested, "It's what's up front that counts." It's a slogan that would apply to the Jaguars defense this season, which would seem to be counting on free-agent acquisition Aaron Kampman (pictured) and four defensive line draft choices to transform a defense that was 23rd-ranked overall with the sixth-worst pass-defense and the league's worst pass-rush into a much more formidable unit.

The theory is that a better pass-rush will also make the Jaguars better on pass-defense. It's logical, but is it fair to expect one group to do so much? Is it a realistic expectation?

Let's start with Kampman, an accomplished, veteran pass-rusher. He's making the move from 3-4 linebacker back to his natural 4-3 end position. Everyone agrees Kampman will benefit from the move. Is he, however, recovered enough from his knee reconstruction of last December to be a game-changer for the Jaguars defense in 2010?

Now let's turn our attention to those four draft picks.

The Jaguars cleared the way for Tyson Alualu to move into the starting lineup at defensive tackle immediately after making Alualu the 10th pick of this year's draft. John Henderson was cut and later signed with Oakland, and Alualu was running with the first team as early as in his first mini-camp as a pro. He's a three-technique defensive tackle, which means Alualu is being counted on to be a penetrating and disruptive force next to Terrance Knighton, who established himself in his rookie season last year as a long-term plug in the middle of the line.

Another rookie defensive tackle, D'Anthony Smith, was impressive enough in OTAs for the Jaguars to consider the possibility that Smith will be the steal of this year's draft, just as Knighton was the steal of last year's. Knighton, Alualu and Smith could give the Jaguars the best young trio of defensive tackles in the league.

In the fifth round, the Jaguars turned their attention hard to their pass-rush. They picked undersized defensive end Larry Hart from little-known Central Arkansas and immediately compared him to the Colts' Robert Mathis. Fair comparison? Too bold of an expectation? We'll see.

One more time in the fifth round they hit the defensive end position. They drafted Austen Lane of Murray State to offer depth and competition at left end.

So, can a veteran coming off major knee surgery and a quartet of rookies transform the Jaguars defense from the soft unit it was a year ago, to the aggressive, attacking defense it wants to be? Is it a fair expectation?

"It comes with the position," defensive line coach Joe Cullen said. "Any really great defense starts up front with guys that are disruptive, can stop the run and get after the quarterback. The ball gets out quicker. For us to be good, that has to be the standard we set. That kind of pressure comes with the position."

Cullen was hired to affect that kind of change. He has a reputation for developing young talent with a high-energy approach and Cullen has already set the wheels of change in motion with the Jaguars.

"Kampman is proven. He's been a great player in a four-linemen scheme. That was step number one. With those (rookies), you have to be ready to go. We have to get them ready to go. That's my job as a coach and that's their job as a professional. They have to be ready to go when the bell sounds," Cullen said. "We have to improve. There's no question about it. A lot has to fall in place, but I think we have the nucleus of a really strong unit that can rush the passer and that will definitely help the secondary out."

It's on their shoulders. Whatever improvement the Jaguars make on defense this season will be dictated by the advances the Jaguars make on their defensive line because, after all, it's what's up front that counts.

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