As Gene Smith sees it, there&39;s a lot to like about the Jaguars&39; defensive end position.
There&39;s talent. There&39;s youth.
Smith, entering his third season as the Jaguars&39; general manager, said while there&39;s an encouraging mix of all of the above, perhaps most important about the team&39;s defensive end positions is Aaron Kampman being a big part of it.
And actually, that&39;s true of the entire defense.
"Aaron was arguably our best defensive player before he got hurt last year," Smith said recently when discussing the Jaguars&39; defensive end position for this story, part of a position-by-position series scheduled to run on jaguars.com in the coming days and weeks.
Kampman, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent last off-season from Green Bay, turned into one of the NFL&39;s better off-season acquisition before he sustained a second torn anterior cruciate ligament injury in as many seasons.
He is expected to return next season, and while he is expected to be ready for training camp, Smith said the team will limit him during that period.
It will be the second consecutive season in which Kampman – who this year will enter his 10thNFL season – has returned from a season-ending knee injury.
"He&39;s doing exceptionally well in the rehab," Smith said. "We anticipate him returning (at a high level). If anyone can come back from it, he certainly can."
Kampman did so last season, and played at a high level while starting the first eight games of the season. He finished the season with four sacks, also providing leadership in and off the field that Smith said can&39;t be overestimated.
"I&39;ve been around here since Day 1," Smith said. "He brought the (Tony) Boselli Factor – come early, stay late. He talks and people listen. There&39;s a presence about him. He sets the standard for others to follow. He doesn&39;t just say it. He does it.
"He&39;s passionate about the profession. He&39;s very serious in his approach and he&39;s very sincere in his message. He&39;s a guy on the practice field – you don&39;t just see him. You feel him. He makes people around him better."
Smith said even with the injury, there&39;s little reason to think Kampman won&39;t return at a high level.
"Here&39;s a guy who has been very durable throughout his college and NFL career up to his knee injury in Green Bay," Smith said. "That was unfortunate. He came off of that and did exceptionally well.
"There have been other guys (return from two ACLs). (Fullback) Greg Jones on our own team has done it. Kyle Vanden Bosch, who played in our division (as a defensive end with Tennessee) for a number of years. He came off two ACLs."
Smith said Kampman&39;s injuries the last two seasons could be a positive moving forward.
"Aaron has not played two full seasons the last two years," he said. "That should benefit him at this stage of his career."
Kampman&39;s presence, Smith said, is key to the Jaguars&39; defensive end position – not only because of his production, but because of his versatility.
Kampman can play either end position, and Smith said the development of the Jaguars&39; young defensive ends around Kampman also should continue.
Jeremy Mincey, a fifth-year veteran from the University of Florida, started the last eight games of the season last year, finishing with five sacks. They were the first starts of his career and the sacks total was a career-high.
"He created some pass rush for us," Smith said of Mincey.
Austen Lane, a second-year veteran from Murray State, started the final nine games of the season and while he didn&39;t have a sack, "he gave us some quality snaps," Smith said.
Derrick Harvey, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, had a solid start to the 2010 off-season, Smith said. He performed well in organized team activities, but Smith said "he never transferred it to training camp, preseason or the regular season like we had anticipated."
Harvey, who played collegiately at Florida, started nine games as a rookie and 16 in 2009 before starting the first seven games last season. He registered 2.5 sacks before finishing the season in a backup role.
"He&39;s still young," Smith said. "He was a high draft choice and he has had a lot of starts for us. He&39;s still young. You hope at some point he&39;s going to be able to make a move. He did not make that last year during the season. We had some guys earn the opportunity to play over him."
Smith said the Jaguars also were optimistic about the potential shown by Larry Hart and Aaron Morgan last season.
"They haven&39;t transferred it to the games as consistently as what they have in practice," Smith said. "They do have some rush ability."
The presence of players such as Hart and Morgan add to a position that Smith calls a "strength-in-numbers position.
"There are a number of guys who are capable of taking quality snaps. We have some young, developing pass rushers. This may be the position that emerges that people aren&39;t expecting to.
"There are guys in this group who are genetically gifted who could do that."