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Jaguars 2014 OTAs: DL deeper, bigger– and that's a good thing


JACKSONVILLE – Todd Wash won't say the defensive line is "fixed."

That might imply the line "has it," something not often said near Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley.

Still, there are bad problems and good problems, and the issues facing the Jaguars' defensive line now are better than this time last offseason.

The problems Wash faces this year are mainly figuring who will do what, who will start where. And while they're important issues, Wash – entering his second season as the Jaguars' defensive line coach – can smile discussing them because they mean good things.

Better competition. Better size. Better depth.

Together, they mean the Jaguars could be a whole lot better on the defensive front next season – and to be whole lot better for a whole lot longer – than they were a year ago.

"We're excited about the depth," Wash said this week during Jaguars 2014 organized team activities, which continued Thursday with the third of 10 scheduled OTA practices at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields.

"We're a lot deeper than we were last year. Not saying we didn't have some quality backups, but we're at least two deep at every position and in some areas we're three deep where they're battling to be a starter."

Wash is speaking from a coach's perspective, but make no mistake:

The players in the defensive line room feel the same way. The group made strides last season, and felt there were times it played really well.

But it was also a group that knew improvement was needed.

"It helps to have depth," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "It helps to have different guys do different things. It just adds extra confidence to the line. We felt good about who we had last year. But with these guys we feel a little bit better."

The Jaguars' offseason defensive line moves were tangible, swift and decisive.  And yes, they were very, very big.

The biggest? Defensive end Red Bryant – at 6-feet-4, 323 pounds a player Miller smilingly calls "a big, big boy," and a player whose size the Jaguars hope will significantly improve a run defense that struggled at times last season.

The Jaguars signed Bryant – a starter the last three years with the Seattle Seahawks early in free agency, then signed former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Ziggy Hood (6-3, 300-pounds) a few days later. That's size and then some.

"We got bigger," Wash said. "We needed to address that situation and as an organization they did very well. We're excited about it."

They signed former Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons, too, and re-signed veteran Jason Babin. That's pass rush depth and experience.

That's also a whole lot of signings, and a whole lot more guys who could play more plays at a higher level than the team had a year ago.

"I think the organization did a great job bringing in depth," Wash said. "We're a lot deeper than we were."

The Jaguars believed that while the starting defensive line of Tyson Alualu, Miller, Sen'Derrick Marks and Babin played very well at times, those players played far too many plays. Marks played 946, with Babin playing 779 plays, Alualu playing 754 and Miller playing 581 despite missing the final two games.

The Seahawks by comparison – and aren't they always the comparison? – had one defensive lineman play more than 600 plays, with Bryant playing 488 and Clemons playing 585.

Added depth – quality, veteran depth – should bring the Jaguars' numbers more in line.

"It's going to allow us to stay fresher in ballgames, so when we get in the fourth quarter we have the ability to play eight guys in front and stay healthy," Wash said.

Wash said when the team signed Clemons, Bryant, Hood and Babin his first thought was the group would be healthier. The second was the group had a real chance to be more explosive.

"Once you get into a game, you can't expect a defensive lineman to play 60 snaps a game," Wash said. "A couple of our defensive linemen were doing that last year. By the time you get to the fourth quarter, you wear down. That's the biggest thing we're excited about is depth."

Miller said changes in the game have made depth more necessary.

"You have to be able to run down the line, chase screens and be effective down in and down out," he said. "To have those other guys just helps."

Competition also creates the reality that some competing players won't be here next season. The team currently has six Leos, including Babin, Clemons, third-year veteran Andre Branch, second-year veteran Ryan Davis and rookie Chris Smith. Wash called it "a very competition-based position."

"At the most we can play three at a time, but that's only on third down," Wash said. "We have some good players at that position. They all know that. It doesn't matter if you're a second-year player or ten- year player; it's going to be the best player.

"There's no way you can come here and cruise. If you don't perform everyday you're going to move down the depth chart and your future is what it is."

Wash said at the end of training camp you want to be able to say, "We had to part ways with a good player." He also said that could happen at more than one spot.

In the case of the Jaguars' defensive line, it's safe to say that's a good problem.

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