JACKSONVILLE – So far, Joe Cullen likes what he sees.
Cullen is the Jaguars' defensive coordinator, and the team isn't yet in pads in 2021 Training Camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. That means what Cullen can judge is mostly the players' knowledge of the defense.
On that front? So far, so good.
"They were great," Cullen said Friday after an hour-and-45-minute practice on Day 3 of camp. "There has been a lot of retention. Things hit faster. You take the training wheels off now."
The Jaguars installed the defense twice during the offseason, as is the norm for NFL teams. The third full "install" takes place in training camp, after which players must know the defense and play instinctively.
"This is the third time they've heard it, and the first game will be the fourth time," Cullen said. "They're doing really well with the retention."
Cullen, entering his first season as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator after five seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive line coach, spoke to the media Friday for the first time in '21 camp. He addressed multiple issues, including the challenge of coaching early in camp with defensive players unable to compete and attack the ball because of NFL rules regarding non-padded and non-contact work.
The Jaguars were fined for eight plays that violated offseason non-contact rules, and defensive backs in practice this week have raised their hands at times rather than deflect passes. The team's first padded practice is scheduled for Tuesday.
"It's a process," Cullen said. "Obviously, we're trying to get better every day and it's part of the game. Obviously, we don't want to compete without shoulder pads and everything like that with injuries. Our guys are doing a great job of it.
"They're doing everything they can within the rules."
Cullen on Friday also discussed veteran linebacker Myles Jack's role in the defense. Jack, who played at a high level as weak-side linebacker in a four-linemen, three-linebacker defense last season, is expected to have a versatile role in the Jaguars' defense under Cullen. The Jaguars are expected to play more 3-4 defense in what Cullen has described as a versatile scheme that will feature 3-and-4 looks. "Right now, we're keeping him inside," Cullen said of Jack, who played strong, middle and weak-side linebacker in the team's former 4-3 scheme. "There will be some things where he will move all around and you don't know where he's at. We're honing him in being on the inside, but there are some things we'll do where he'll be on the outside." Cullen on Jack: "He's working his tail off. He's just getting better and better. He plays fast."
Cullen praised rookie safety Andre Cisco, who is on the active roster and who is practicing full early in camp. A third-round selection from Syracuse, Cisco missed the last nine games of the 2020 season with a knee injury sustained September 26. "He's getting better every day," Cullen said. "He couldn't do anything coming off the injury at Syracuse. He really has worked hard to be in great shape, everything he could do. Physically, he has no limitations."
Cullen on the Jaguars' scheme: "We'll be multiple in our scheme. We can have four-man fronts. We can have three-man fronts, five-man fronts with five down (lineman). With the guys we have up front and the competition, we'll have different package groupings. You won't know who's coming, who's blitzing, what personnel grouping we're in. Once everything is settled, we'll be able to hone in on different packages."
Cullen on the importance of versatility in the Jaguars' scheme: "Every year as a defensive line coach I said, 'If you want to add value to yourself and stay in this league, you better learn more than one position.' If I'm a five-technique or a defensive end, I'm going to have to learn three-technique or nose. Because in the snap of a finger, if someone gets hurt in a game and you don't have the body … someone has to be trained at two different spots. Same at linebacker. You have to know those roles and coaches have to move guys around so it becomes second-nature."