JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' defense was among the NFL's best last season.
It ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed, sacks and interceptions – and the young, talented group is one of the reasons many consider the Jaguars one of the NFL's most talented teams.
Where did the defense get better in the 2018 offseason? How did it develop during '18 organized team activities and minicamp? Here's a look:
Defensive end (10)
Projected starters: Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue.
Projected reserves/others: Dante Fowler Jr., Taven Bryan, Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips, Hunter Dimick, Darius Jackson, Lyndon Johnson, Kapron Lewis-Moore.
Offseason moves: The Jaguars did little in this area in free agency, then used the No. 29 overall selection of Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft on Bryan. A defensive tackle at Florida, Bryan worked extensively at end during organized team activities and minicamp; he appears capable of playing both positions in the NFL. The Jaguars also declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Fowler's 2019 contract, but have said they would like to re-sign him to a long-term deal before his contract runs out at the end of the 2018 League Year.
As the offseason ends and camp approaches: The addition of Bryan made a strong position stronger – and his athleticism/quickness could make him the team's future at the position. This position group not only is one of the team's strongest, the Jaguars' defensive ends are one of the best end groups in the NFL. Campbell was the runner-up for Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and set a franchise record with 14.5 sacks; Ngakoue has 20 sacks with 10 forced fumbles in his first two NFL regular seasons. Fowler registered 10 sacks including the postseason last season, and the team likes Smoot's long-term potential at strong-side end.
Defensive tackle (5)
Projected starters: Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus.
Projected reserves/others: Abry Jones, Eli Ankou, Michael Bennett.
Offseason moves: The Jaguars according to this chart didn't do much in the offseason, but the reality is the Jaguars rotate and interchange strong-side ends with tackles enough that it's tough to "chart" the defensive line. The addition of Bryan should add depth and talent to this already deep position.
As the offseason ends and camp approaches: Tackle, like end, appears to be one of the Jaguars' stronger positions. It's difficult to gauge defensive-line play in unpadded OTA or minicamp work, but Jackson drew praise for reporting in improved shape following his first Pro Bowl appearance in January. Dareus participated 100 percent in his first offseason with the Jaguars, having been acquired from the Buffalo Bills in an October trade last season. Dareus got progressively better last season and was playing at an elite level during the team's postseason run. Add in the ability of Campbell, Bryan and Smoot to contribute inside in addition to strong-side end and this position – along with end – gives the Jaguars one of the NFL's best defensive fronts.
Projected starters: Blair Brown, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith.
Projected reserves/others: Lerentee McCray, Leon Jacobs, Deon King, Donald Payne, Brooks Ellis, Andrew Motuapuaka, Reggie Hunter, Manase Hungalu.
Offseason moves: The new look at this position centers around the March retirement of longtime veteran Paul Posluszny. He started in the middle for the last seven seasons – and while he played a reduced role last season, he was still the starter in the middle in base situations. A potential major offseason acquisition: the selection of Jacobs from Wisconsin in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
As the offseason ends and camp approaches: Strong-side linebacker could be an area to watch in training camp. Jack played the position last season in base situations, but will move to the middle on a full-time basis – i.e., base and nickel situations – this season. The question: who will start at strong-side backer, a position expected to play in run downs and come off the field in the nickel packages? Brown – a second-year veteran is a possibility, and the team likes what it saw from Jacobs during non-padded work in OTAs and minicamp.
Projected starters: A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey.
Projected reserves/others: D.J. Hayden, Jalen Myrick, Tyler Patmon, Dexter McDougle, Sammy Seamster, Dee Delaney, Tre Herndon, Quenton Meeks, C.J. Reavis.
Offseason moves: The major move here involved nickel corner, with the team signing Hayden to play the spot after allowing Aaron Colvin to sign as an unrestricted free agent with the Houston Texans. The Jaguars also signed multiple rookie free agents following the 2018 NFL Draft, with Delaney and Meeks having been projected as possible late-round selections before slipping out of the draft.
As the offseason ends and camp approaches: The Jaguars have perhaps the NFL's top cornerback duo, with Ramsey having been named first-team Associated Press All-Pro last season and Bouye being named second team. The main offseason issue here: how will Hayden fare replacing Colvin, who was considered one of the NFL's top nickel corners last season? Depth also could be determined in training camp and preseason, with Delaney and Meeks possibly pushing Myrick and Patmon for special teams and reserve roles.
Projected starters: Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson.
Projected reserves/others: Ronnie Harrison, Don Carey, Cody Davis, Jarrod Wilson, Charlie Miller.
Offseason moves: The Jaguars' major offseason moves here involved special teams and depth – and quite likely the future. Carey and Davis were signed as unrestricted free agents and they could play key roles on special teams and backups. The Jaguars selected Harrison in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and he figures to eventually take over as a starter – perhaps in 2019.
As the offseason ends and camp approaches: Don't look for major position battles here in camp. Church and Gipson are entrenched as starters, at least through this season. The depth here looks strong, with the question being how many players the Jaguars will keep at the spot behind Gipson, Church and Harrison.