JACKSONVILLE – Defensive Line is Priority One.
If there has been a theme for the 2021 Jaguars offseason, that's it. The theme continued Friday – and as Urban Meyer sees it, the Jaguars have moved in a positive direction toward that priority.
A very positive direction.
"We attacked it, and we're very excited," Meyer said.
Meyer is hardly alone. The Jaguars' head coach on a Friday morning videoconference discussed in detail not only the importance of rebuilding the defensive line – but the significant progress he believes the Jaguars have made toward that end in recent days.
Malcom Brown agreed.
"Being in this league for a while, you hear that a lot and it's very true: The big guys set the tone of the game," Brown said. "We always make contact first, so we just—it feels good that we're building something strong on the defensive line and I just hope we continue to grow and get better together."
Brown, a nose tackle acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, was one of four defensive linemen the Jaguars acquired Wednesday on the first day of the 2021 NFL League Year. They also agreed to terms to sign defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (Pittsburgh) and defensive ends Jihad Ward (Baltimore) and Roy Robertson-Harris (Chicago) as unrestricted free agents.
"As a defensive lineman, it always starts upfront," Ward said Friday. "The main thing is about brotherhood as the d-line. We have to rush, we have to have good communication with our rushes and also dominate in the front, setting the edge, setting the vertical edge, and basically getting vertical and stuff like that. Once we have good connections right there, I think we have a dominant d-line as I look at this roster that we have going on.
"I'm so excited about this whole group of men that we have coming on board."
Meyer, hired as the Jaguars' head coach in January, said he expected his team's defensive line to be among the top five in the nation when coaching in college. He said he expects the Jaguars' defensive line to be in the top quarter of the NFL – "at least now, and we should keep elevating that."
"That was the place we built, and I believe we're going to be in the top fourth in the league on the defensive line," Meyer said.
The Jaguars have ranked No. 28 and No. 30 in the NFL in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Meyer made clear Friday he not only expects the line to improve, but that he knows how he expects the group to look while improving.
"Really big … I mean like, big-big," he said. "I used to say that about the SEC, in college football, the defensive lines look different. So, if you look at the size of the guys we found—and [Jaguars defensive coordinator] Joe Cullen is a d-line guy and so is [Jaguars defensive line coach] Tosh Lupoi, obviously. There's a reason why I hired those two coaches, too. I've always had excellent defensive line coaches and I listen to their expertise, but I've also got a vision of what it's supposed to look like.
"I know what the expectation is. I expect the defensive line to be one of the strengths of our team."
Brown, the No. 32 overall selection by the New England Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft, has started 80 of 89 career games and started 29 of 29 games played for New Orleans the past two seasons. Meyer on Friday was asked what he liked about Brown. "Everything," he said. "[Jaguars assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach] Charlie Strong recruited him at Texas. He's a family man and a high, high character guy. When you see his size, his bend, his athleticism … he has been well-coached already at New Orleans. We're not supposed to have favorites yet, but he's one of my favorites, I look forward to meeting him."
Cullen is the No. 1 reason Ward is in Jacksonville, and Ward is fine with that. "That's my dog right there," Ward said of the Jaguars' defensive coordinator. Cullen spent the last five seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive line coach, coaching Ward there the past two seasons. Meyer said Friday he did "very little homework on" Ward because Cullen knew Ward. "I don't if I've ever had a coach pound the table as hard for a guy," Meyer said. "He wanted him to be part of our organization. That's why we did it." Ward said of Cullen, "We go way back and it's a strong connection back there with me and him when he was getting me right for the Combine. He worked me out every time. It's just some stuff that's just really not explainable. He's just a good guy to me. I trust him. I give my all to that guy because he always gives his all to me, so that's my dog."
Brown on signing with the Jaguars: "I was ecstatic. I heard what coaches were here and what direction they were going in. I was happy. I already knew the situation I was in over in New Orleans, I already knew they had to get under cap space. Keeping that mind, I just wanted to attack the offseason, wherever I'm going to be, I'll be the best version of me. When the trade happened, I was on the phone, I was happy, I was running around the house. It doesn't matter where the program was last year, it's about what we do next year."