JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' preseason defensive focus was clear and simple.
Improve against the run.
Do that, defensive coordinator Joe Cullen's theory went, and good things will follow – and after the Jaguars' 34-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's preseason finale, that theory looks as if it's bringing the desired results.
"It's going to be pretty tough to run the ball on us," safety Jarrod Wilson said Sunday.
That certainly was the case in the preseason.
The Jaguars, who struggled mightily against the run during both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, entered Week 3 of the preseason having held the Cleveland Browns to 41 yards on 26 carries in Preseason Week 1 and having held the New Orleans Saints to 63 yards on 21 carries in Preseason Week 2.
They followed those two games with a third strong performance, holding the Cowboys to 76 yards on 21 carries.
"I'd like to compliment the whole defensive front," Meyer said Sunday, praising second-year defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton as one of the reasons for the improvement through preseason games. "It's been three weeks in a row that we've won the line of scrimmage. DaVon, he's a big part of this defense.
"Joe, calling the style of defense we've played – big, thick cats that can control the line of scrimmage and he (Hamilton) is a big part of that. So is [defensive lineman Malcom [Brown]."
Wilson said effort, focus and detail in practice has been key.
"I know as far as the front seven, it is a little bit different as opposed to years past," he said. "Definitely just reps in practice. They are not live reps, just good reps of tackling. It is an emphasis every single day. Just going through those drills day in and day out has helped us be good this preseason."
Meyer after Sunday's game was quick to praise the offensive line, a group that played without four starters – center Brandon Linder (knee), left guard Andrew Norwell (elbow), right guard A.J. Cann (Reserve/COVID-19) and left tackle Cam Robinson (ankle). Meyer said the Jaguars considered on Saturday not playing quarterback Trevor Lawrence because of the situation, but decided the rookie needed the repetitions in the final preseason game. Meyer said tackle Will Richardson moved to right guard with only a walkthrough as preparation, and Meyer specifically praised veteran reserve center Tyler Shatley and rookie tackle Walker Little. "The most impressive group was the o-line," Meyer said. "That was the most impressive thing I saw, the offensive line protecting our guys."
Meyer also noted that two players, wide receiver Devin Smith and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, played extensive roles after joining the team on Saturday and playing without a practice. "The first time I'm shaking their hand is the pregame meal," said Meyer, in his first season as an NFL head coach. "That's a new one. They're good guys, they played." Smith caught a 45-yard pass with a diving reception – one of the game's highlight play. "Just stuff like that is crazy," Lawrence said. "He just got here, goes out there, runs a go, catches a -yard pass. Stuff like that is just so weird. You don't get used to it."
Meyer on Saturday's trade of quarterback Gardner Minshew to the Philadelphia Eagles: "That was tough, man. I was a little choked up when I saw him in that office. I didn't know him at all [entering the offseason]. It didn't start off on the best of terms because I'm not sure how much he wanted to be here. I get it [because the Jaguars had selected Lawrence with the] first overall pick [this past offseason]. He (Minshew) is a competitive maniac, that guy. And I get it. I told him for the rest of his life, count me as a big fan because he's what you want. He's a warrior. He's competitive."