JACKSONVILLE – What's needed is obvious. The number is notable and must improve.
Jaguars Defensive Backs Coach DeWayne Walker said this week no question that's the case, that a young secondary needs to force more interceptions next season. But while Walker said that's one offseason focus, a couple of important points shouldn't be missed:
One is that this is a young, talented secondary.
Another is that the group has a very real chance to improve dramatically next season.
"I know that (the 2014 interception total) is an area of focus, but I also look at the things that we did well," Walker said Wednesday afternoon during an appearance on jaguars.com live with Brian Sexton and John Oehser.
The Jaguars' defense last season intercepted six passes in 16 games, with three of those interceptions by defensive backs. Walker said that's a number that must go up, but he also said the secondary made strides last season, noting a reduction of big plays allowed after a Week 4 loss in San Diego.
He also pointed to the recent additions of free-agent cornerback Davon House and free-agent safety Sergio Brown to an already improving group that includes third-year cornerbacks Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz, third-year safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans and second-year cornerback Aaron Colvin.
"When you're dealing with young guys, with some of the things we really did well, it was pretty cool to see us improve in those areas," Walker said. "Now, what do we need to work on? Obviously, we need to get our hands on more balls.
"Every year's different, but it's definitely something you have to pay attention to. I've looked at other secondaries around the league to see what they're doing to get their hands on balls and get interceptions versus what we're doing. You look at the schemes. You study it, but it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over.
"I know we have more experience and we've added two pretty good players in the secondary. "
The Jaguars started mostly second-year players in the secondary last season, particularly after a season-ending injury to cornerback Alan Ball in Week 7. McCray started opposite Gratz through much of the final half of the season, with Colvin playing in the final six games. Cyprien started 15 games last season and Evans started 14.
"You have to go through it," Walker said of the growth process associated with a secondary so young. "It's a process and through that process you're always going to look to see that you're getting better and not getting worse. I think this year is going to be very, very good to see."
Also on Wednesday:
*Walker spoke highly of Colvin, who could move into a nickel role with House and McCray starting on the outside. It's a role Walker said fits Colvin's skill set. "I've had one corner who was able to do both (play nickel and outside)," Walker said. "That was Shawn Springs when I was with the Redskins, but he (Colvin) has the intangibles because he's a very intelligent player. He has the skill set to play both spots. It's going to be a challenge for him because it's two different positions and you have to have a different mindset playing inside and outside, but he has the football I.Q. and the skill set to do both." …
*Walker addressed the importance of the free safety position, which Brown will have the opportunity to earn after signing from the Colts last week. "When you're a single safety defense, cornerbacks feel comfortable with really good safeties who can protect them in the seam areas," Walker said. "If a running back gets to the second level it's only you to keep good running backs out of the end zone. I know in our scheme, that position is very critical." …
*Walker discussed the skill set of House, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Green Bay Packers. House played for Walker in 2009-2010 when Walker was the head coach at New Mexico State. "Obviously, with our bump-and-run scheme here and with his size and straight line speed – he has good ball skills," Walker said. "The thing I like about what he brings as a bump-and-run corner is his presence at the line of scrimmage.'' …
*Walker said Cyprien "is on track" entering his third NFL season. "Asking a rookie to come in and know the system and be an elite player from Day One, it doesn't work that way," Walker said. "You have to let them play, see the things they do well and see the things a player can improve. Just looking at his progress and some of the things he needs to improve, I think we're on course and I think this season is going to be a real good season for him." …