The fate of the Jaguars in 2010 is in the hands of the defense, and everyone from the team's defensive coordinator on down knows it. How's that for pressure?
It's all on the defense because Jack Del Rio's teams have always been built on the foundation of a strong defense and that foundation crumbled last season and must be reconstructed this year. They're trying.
Tuesday morning, in combined practices against the Atlanta Falcons, the Jaguars defense didn't try hard enough. It got creased for a couple of quick touchdown runs in nine-on-seven and then got pasted by Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Justin Peelle (huh?) and company in seven-on-seven, 11-on-11 and 53-on-53, too, if it had been allowed.
Whoa! Talk about leaving the field feeling bad? Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker, an almost-always upbeat personality, couldn't hide his disappointment.
During the regeneration period – that's the new training staff terminology for lunch and a nap – Tucker, the defense's position coaches and probably the head coach, too, likely conveyed their disappointment to their players. When the afternoon practice began, the Jaguars defense clearly had a chip on its shoulder.
What was the chip worth? Well, let's just say the defense's performance in the afternoon was better; it wasn't great, but it was vastly improved.
"Yeah, it was better," Tucker said. "We were sharper, had more energy. I thought we played faster. It looked like they were having fun."
The difference between the morning and afternoon practices is that in the afternoon the Jaguars alternated between good plays and bad plays. In the morning, there were mostly bad plays.
For example, linebacker Justin Durant intercepted a Matt Ryan pass in the afternoon session. Durant dropped perfectly into the path of a Ryan sideline throw. Ryan then followed with a deep ball to White, who beat Don Carey, who exchanged words with White, which caused a conference in the corner of the end zone.
Ryan followed by hitting Peelle (huh?) with a pass, and then Anthony Smith nearly intercepted one and Sean Considine did, in fact, intercept one. That's when the Jags defense stopped alternating between good plays and bad plays and just started making good plays, and that's when hope for the 2010 season was awakened again.
Cornerback Derek Cox knocked away a pass in the end zone in a two-minute drill, and defensive back Michael Coe killed the Falcons' two-minute series by intercepting quarterback John Parker Wilson on what was the last play of the two-day event.
OK, it was a combined practice, not a game, but stoning Ryan and company in that two-minute drill that ended practice on Tuesday was a major source of pride for the Jaguars defense to take back to Jacksonville. It is something on which they can build; it's something on which they must build because last in the league in sacks and 27th in pass-defense won't win in the NFL these days.
"We've got to get pressure on the quarterback, whether it's four, five or six-man rush. Whatever it is, we have to get pressure on the quarterback, and our tackling has to improve," Tucker said when asked what the Jaguars must do to become a better defense in 2010 than they were a year ago.
Twenty-one training camp practices are in the books. Just ahead is the preseason. The regular season and the moment of reckoning against such formidable first-month opponents as Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning are coming into view now. This is it and it's on the defense. It holds the team's fate in its hands.