Mike Mularkey talked about it throughout the preseason.
On Sunday, assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Mel Tucker mentioned it, and when cornerback Rashean Mathis on Monday was talking about the defensive effort in a 26-23 season-opening overtime loss to Minnesota, it was foremost on his mind.
The subject: tackling.
Mathis, the Jaguars' most-tenured defensive player, said more than pass coverage and more than pass rush, that was what needed improvement following the opener.
"It was a tackling issue," Mathis said.
Mathis said while the Jaguars allowed Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder to complete 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards, the defense really only allowed two long passes – a 29-yarder to Kyle Rudolph in the third quarter, and the game's critical play, a 26-yarder to wide receiver Devin Aromashodu in the final seconds.
The play to Aromashodu helped set up a 55-yard game-tying field goal by rookie kicker Blair Walsh, but Mathis said more concerning was the number of short passes that wide receiver Percy Harvin turned into long gains. Harvin finished with six receptions for 84 yards.
"The last play was 20-some yards, and they had one play to the tight end, but other than that they didn't have any long plays," Mathis said. "It's a matter of, 'Once they get the ball, tackle and tackle in space.' That's what it came down to.
"They had a lot of YAC (yards after catch) yards. We have to be able to eliminate that as a defense."
Said Mularkey, "We had players there to make a play. We have to make some of those plays. It's easier on other players than it was on Percy Harvin."
Mularkey added of the tackling, "It's been kind of a common theme in the preseason."
READY AND WAITING
Zach Potter was ready, but he was just as happy he wasn't needed.
Potter, the Jaguars' reserve tight end, nearly became much more on Sunday. In the wake of injuries to tackle Cameron Bradfield, guard Eben Britton and guard Uche Nwaneri, Potter spent halftime and part of the second half preparing to play offensive tackle.
"It was a little different," Potter said of the experience.
Potter said he works as a tackle on occasion in practice to prepare for an emergency, and said the Jaguars faced a similar situation in Pittsburgh last season.
"We know the basics," he said.
Potter said the biggest issue while preparing during the game Sunday was pass protection, and he spent time reviewing which way the linemen were sliding to protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert. During the second half, he stood near Bradfield and tight ends coach Bobby Johnson as plays were called, with Bradfield reviewing assignments and responsibilities.
"There was definitely some nervousness when they come to you at halftime and say, 'If we get another injury, you're in,''' Potter said. "They kept saying, 'You're in if there's another injury' and I kept saying, 'No. No one else is going to get injured.' I kept a positive attitude about it. We had to dumb down a few plays. Luckily, we didn't get in that situation."
Potter said he "assumed" he would have played right tackle, adding with a smile, "I'd have preferred right with Jared Allen in there."
Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe on Sunday blocked Allen, a four-time All-Pro selection. Monroe held Allen without a sack.
"We have to make plays. In all phases, we have to make big plays. There's a lot to learn from (Sunday). To be a good, consistent football team, we have to learn how to win games like that – close games, on the road. I think we'll learn from it, but we do need to make some plays in all phases."
"You learn you're not going to be perfect every game. We played a very good first half and played an average second half. When it's all said and done, you don't want to beat yourself up too much, but you want to learn from the mistakes you made and realize what you need to do to get better. As a defense, we don't feel that we went out and got routed – definitely not. But there are a lot of things we could have done better."
"You watched the game. It was definitely worth the fans' money on both ends, Jaguars fans and Vikings fans. It was definitely a game you can't hang your head about. Those guys get paid, too, and they fought until the end, too."
The Jaguars will be off Tuesday and return Wednesday with a full practice to begin preparing for the 2012 regular-season home opener against the Houston Texans Sunday at 1 p.m.
While players and coaches were disappointed with the loss to Minnesota, Mularkey said on Monday he was proud of many areas. One was how the team fought through injuries, and another was the performance of Gabbert, who not only had the best game of his career statistically, but who put the Jaguars ahead, 23-20, with a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cecil Shorts with 20 seconds remaining. "He took a number of hits early, and he knew the kind of pressure that was coming," Mularkey said. "To stand in the pocket and make some of those precise throws, it was well done." Mularkey said Gabbert led the team well on the late drive, making several throws that were remarkable and converting a fourth down. The pass to Shorts, Mularkey said, was the right read, with Gabbert finding Shorts in single coverage and looking off the defense to ensure Shorts had a chance to make a play on the ball one on one with a defender. Mularkey said throughout the offseason, preseason and now the regular season, Gabbert has continued to earn the respect of teammates. "There are definitely a lot of people who have his back," Mularkey said.
- The Jaguars registered two sacks for four yards against the Vikings, but Mincey said the pass rush overall "wasn't bad." "They were doing a lot of quick passes," Mincey said, "and a lot of tricky plays. They've got two dynamic guys (Harvin and Adrian Peterson). We just have to get those guys to the ground. Unfortunately, we didn't do that to the best of our ability." The Jaguars allowed 389 total yards, 117 in the first half. "We held a lot of the yardage down, but they made plays that counted down the stretch," Mincey said. "That's what cost us." Mularkey said the Vikings threw quickly to combat the Jaguars' pass rush, and that when Ponder did hold the ball to throw he usually got hit. "We have to stay relentless," Mularkey said, adding he felt good overall about the pass rush.
- Monroe not only held Allen without a sack, Mularkey said he did so without a tremendous amount of help from running backs or tight ends. Allen was not credited with a sack or a pressure, and aside from an early play in which he jumped offside and hit Gabbert, did not appear to have a hit on the quarterback. "Eugene played extremely well," Mularkey said. "I was proud of the way he kind of quietly did his number. Hopefully, that will help him against these guys he has to line up against." Monroe said of Allen, "He was an elite player and has an incredible motor. It's unlike any other player. He's talented."
- Mathis, playing his first regular-season game after rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament, had a pass defensed and a tackle while playing in a nickel role. He said there was no soreness in the knee coming out of the game. "That's a great sign," he said.
- Reserve linebacker Kyle Bosworth started in place of Daryl Smith (groin), and recorded two tackles and a tackle for loss. "I thought he played about as well as he could play,' Mularkey said. 'He played well."
- Mularkey said the Jaguars wanted a touchback on the kickoff with 20 seconds remaining, but that kicker Josh Scobee mishit the kick. "It went right to him," Mularkey said. "Even if it would have bounced, it would have helped us, but when it went right to him on a line drive, that allowed him to return it longer than we wanted him to return it."