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Jags defense recovering


After the first week of the season, they were embarrassed. After the second week of the season, they were still last in the league against the run. Now, following a return to the kind of defense for which they had become known, their leader is left to talk about recovery.

"It's going to be early December before we get that down," Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said of his unit's ranking against the run, which zoomed all the way up to 24th following a 47-yard performance in Denver.

That's what happens when you allow 282 yards rushing in your season-opener. A proud defense was brought to its knees and the only explanation Smith can offer is: "It was not a very good performance all the way around, from the secondary to the coaching staff."

When Smith met with reporters on Thursday, in a bye-week state of the defense address, his efforts were on turning the focus forward. The Jaguars want to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the opener against Tennessee, and the defense is currently on a five-quarters roll that gives fans hope that turnover and injuries on the defensive side of the ball can be overcome.

Clearly, this is not the same defense that rose to prominence over the previous four years. Marcus Stroud and Reggie Hayward are attempting to make comebacks from major surgeries. Clint Ingram hasn't played a down. Both safeties are new.

"Finally getting on track," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said. "Plug them in and don't miss a beat. That's what's expected. We all know it's not the same. Plug 'em in and keep moving. Now it's about living up to that."

All of this is putting a premium on Smith's performance because he's the guy who has to plug the pieces in. He has pass-rushers and run-stuffers and he has to know when and how to use them.

Bobby McCray and Brent Hawkins, for example, are defensive ends you want on the field in passing situations. Paul Spicer, on the other hand, is clearly better against the run. Then there's second-round draft pick Justin Durant, who's shown strong upside already and is someone Smith wants to keep on the field, but he has to be careful how he does it because Durant is a rookie and rookies, of course, make mistakes. We saw evidence of that most recently from rookie safety Reggie Nelson.

"This is a group that can be very good," Smith said of his defense. "We're very pleased with our points per game."

The Jaguars are number two in the league in points allowed per game. They're number six in total yards allowed and fourth in pass-defense. They're also number one in sacks per pass play and number four in first downs allowed per game.

Most of the numbers are very good. It's just that one number that's dogging them.

"We'd like to be very successful on first down, so we can get into third and manageable. Then you can play the pass. When you get into third and five, there are teams that will run the ball, so now you have to play pass and run.

"A win on first down is four yards or less. A win on second down is half the yardage necessary for a first down," Smith said. A win on third down, of course, is getting off the field.

The ultimate goal is to make your opponent one-dimensional. Make him have to pass. When you do that, you've achieved dominance.

"I think we're a very productive defense and these guys have been for four years," Smith said.

That's why that one number gnaws at them. This is a proud defense that's having to bear the shame from one game.

"We have played extremely well the last two weeks defending the run. We have some big, strong guys that allow us to be efficient against the run," Smith said.

Just ahead, of course, is Larry Johnson and the Kansas City Chiefs. Along the way, the Jaguars will face Joseph Addai, LaDainian Tomlinson, Willie Parker and, of course, the Tennessee Titans again. There will be plenty of opportunities for recovery.

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