New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will attempt to restore the Jaguars' reputation under head coach Jack Del Rio for rugged defense, but first it must be determined if the Jaguars have the talent to play Williams' high-pressure style.
Do the Jaguars have what it takes to be an attack defense? That is one of the top questions of the summer and the Jaguars will begin seeking answers this Saturday, when the team opens its sixth training camp under Del Rio.
This year's top two draft picks, defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, probably hold the key to unlocking the answer. If Harvey and Groves provide the pass-rush which they were drafted to provide, the Jaguars are likely to make a smooth transition to Williams' style of play and, in the process, return to the top 10 of NFL defenses.
Last year, the Jaguars fell to 12th in overall defense; 11th against the run and 17th against the pass. It was believed that the lack of a pass-rush was at the root of the Jaguars' defensive decline and the Jaguars aggressively addressed their pass-rush need by trading up in each of the first two rounds of the draft to select Harvey and Groves.
The two rookies are expected to fortify a unit that returns John Henderson at tackle and Paul Spicer at end. Spicer is coming off his best pro season and Henderson remains one of the game's top tackles.
Tackle Rob Meier steps into the starting lineup for the first time in his career, and there would seem to be depth at tackle, which should feature a roster-depth battle between Derek Landri, Tony McDaniel, Jimmy Kennedy and undrafted rookie Theo Horrocks.
Defensive end Reggie Hayward is attempting to complete his comeback from Achilles surgery but, of course, he has major competition in the form of Harvey and Groves. James Wyche and Kenny Pettway must come up big, while Jeremy Mincey will begin camp on the PUP list with a wrist injury. Alex Boston is an undrafted free agent.
Here's an analysis of the other defensive positions.
Linebacker—A highlight of training camp will be the battle between Clint Ingram and Justin Durant to join Mike Peterson and Daryl Smith in the starting lineup. The Jaguars have quality and depth at linebacker, which was fortified by the selection of Thomas Williams in this year's draft. Brian Iwuh, Brent Hawkins and Tony Gilbert must compete for roster spots. Lamar Myles is an undrafted rookie.
Defensive backs—The Jaguars dug deep to sign Drayton Florence in free agency and Florence is expected to step in at cornerback and allow Brian Williams to be moved to strong safety. That's the plan and it was put into place in spring OTAs. Will it stay that way? Florence's performance this summer will answer that question. Rashean Mathis is the other cornerback and the Jaguars have depth at the position in Scott Starks, first-year man Rashod Moulton, fifth-round draft choice Trae Williams and undrafted rookies Brian Witherspoon, Isaiah Gardner and Michael Grant. Gerald Sensabaugh is in a comeback from labrum surgery but, for now, has Brian Williams blocking his path at strong safety. Free safety Reggie Nelson appears as though he'll be a featured player in Gregg Williams' defense. Pierson Prioleau, Chad Nkang and Jamaal Fudge add depth at safety.
Special teams—Maurice Jones-Drew will get a hard look as a punt-returner. If the Jaguars feel comfortable with his ability to field punts, he could challenge incumbent punt-returner Dennis Northcutt. Jones-Drew, of course, is one of the game's best kickoff-returners. Witherspoon will get a look at both return positions and wide receiver Troy Williamson will get a look at kickoff-returner. Starks and Nkang are the incumbent gunners. Witherspoon and Gardner will get looks at gunner. Joe Zelenka is the team's unchallenged long-snapper and Montell Owens is the Jaguars' best special teams player. Kicker Josh Scobee and punter Adam Podlesh are without competition.