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Is Jaguars defense evolving?


The head coach was hands-on. He had to feel much as he did seven years ago, when he was the hot-new defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, on the way to molding the number two defense in the league.

These are changing times for Jack Del Rio and his Jaguars defense. The rock-solid, 4-3, gap-control defense he built in Jacksonville is in reconstruction, in terms of personnel and, it would seem, philosophy, too.

"There's no secret that we're going to experiment with some different fronts, just looking to utilize the people we have," Del Rio told reporters following another hot, physically-punishing practice on Wednesday morning.

On the far field, away from fans but not far enough away from roving reporters, Del Rio schooled his defense on the art of confusing the offense. There was no question as to what he was teaching. He was teaching his defense how to play the "3-4 zone-blitz."

So what does it mean? Are the Jaguars about to take on the trademark look of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

The answer has yet to be determined. Best put, the Jaguars are attempting to incorporate that look into their defensive identity, but they don't know for sure, yet, if they have the personnel to fit that scheme.

"We have to be able to affect the quarterback. We think we can put some of our players who fit into the category of being disruptive at the back of the quarterback," Del Rio said.

To that end, defensive end Derrick Harvey is being used a lot in practice in a standup posture. Sometimes Harvey rushes, sometimes he drops into coverage. The Jaguars would love for him to become the next James Harrison.

Undrafted rookie Julius Williams offers physical comparison to Harrison. Clint Ingram, Quentin Groves and Daryl Smith are also considered to be in the 3-4 Steelers mold.

What the Jaguars don't have, however, are the two-gapping defensive linemen the Steelers and Patriots have. They are the players who make the 3-4 go because they are the guys who do the dirty work and keep the blockers off the run-and-hit playmakers.

"The bottom line is what we want to be on defense is attacking. We don't have a bunch of behemoths in there that can be two-gapping," Del Rio said.

Rookie defensive tackle Terrance Knighton offers two-gap, nose-tackle potential. The Jaguars would love for Knighton to become the next Casey Hampton. In that sense, Knighton is a very important player in the Jaguars' plans.

"We realize what our players can do best, in terms of playing the run, affecting the quarterback, playing zone coverage," new Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker said. Tucker came to the Jaguars from Cleveland, where he got a twice-a-year look at the Steelers.

"I think there's a restoration taking place, in terms of how we want to go about our business," Tucker said of the Jaguars defense, declining to call it an evolution. "We've been known in the past as a sound, physical defense. We're emphasizing that and our players are responding."

The Steelers and the Patriots are the two teams most renowned for their use of the 3-4. The Patriots are a traditional read and react 3-4. The Steelers are attack and react and that's the philosophy the Jaguars want to embrace.

"Everything is predicated on stopping the run," Tucker said.

If they can't stop the run, the Jaguars won't be able to put opposing offenses in the down-and-distance situations the Jaguars need to force to be able to use their 3-4 hybrid with which they are experimenting.

"We're just looking at it and challenging our offense with it. I would suggest that part of it is giving looks so our team can prepare," Del Rio said.

"Be physical, play fast, be disciplined, use great technique and impeccable fundamentals. These are the things you have to be able to do defensively, no matter what scheme you're using," Tucker said.

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