There was a lot of talk in the offseason about Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, about his weight and how he would perform when offenses began to account for him along the line.
Knighton has answered a lot of those questions through the first eight games. He has been the anchor of the Jaguars defense and is second on the team with a career-high 3.5 sacks along with 13 quarterback hits and five tackles for loss.
"Terrance has been a dominant presence inside versus the run and he has improved his ability to get on the edge of a block and win as a pass rusher," Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said. "He's a smart football player with outstanding athleticism for a man his size. He's got long arms and can steer and control blockers.
"As a nose tackle, he's usually getting double-teamed on a consistent basis and he's still able to hold the point of attack and force plays. Forcing plays can certainly be as valuable to a defensive front as much as making the play."
Part of Knighton's improvement can be traced to the addition of defensive line coach Joe Cullen and his assistant, Ben Albert. Cullen, who replaced the term defensive linemen with his own term, Rushmen, has placed an emphasis on affecting the quarterback. The Rushmen have responded with 14 sacks through eight games, matching the team's season total from a year ago, with 12 of this year's 14 sacks coming from Cullen's group.
"As a former college defensive lineman and coach myself, I can truly appreciate the impact that Joe and Ben have had on our entire defensive line group," Smith said. "The toughness on your team starts up front and the games are won up front as well. Joe has instilled a strong sense of mental toughness and a standard of expectation with his players in practice that has transferred to game day. I'm a firm believer that mental will wins more than physical skill, especially in the trenches where it is a combative environment every snap. He's a good teacher of technique and he knows how to shape talent."
Knighton admitted he drifted from his routine in the offseason and allowed himself to gain weight by making bad choices at the dinner table. He went to work with the Jaguars strength and conditioning staff and made tremendous strides.
You aren't going to see the gaudy stats from Knighton, but his presence along the line calls for double-teams which frees up the linebackers to make the tackles. Knighton still makes enough plays that ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale would probably refer to him as a "stat sheet stuffer." The former Temple star does a little bit of everything each game. In week eight at Dallas, he recorded his first career interception, had three hits on Jon Kitna and split a sack with rookie Larry Hart.
Knighton's improvement from year one to year two makes the Jaguars optimistic for the future.
"I like the fact that we have one of our best players aligning over the guy who touches the ball virtually every snap," Smith said. "He possesses leadership qualities and can be as good as he decides to be."
2010 MOST SACKS AMONG NFL DEFENSIVE TACKLES
|1.||Ndamukong Suh, Detroit||6.5|
|2.||Tommy Kelly, Oakland||4.5|
|Richard Seymour, Oakland||4.5|
|4.||Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans||4.0|
|5.||Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville||3.5|
|6.||Barry Cofield, N.Y. Giants||3.0|
|Kyle Williams, Buffalo||3.0|
Texans lineman knows Kampman
Houston Texans right tackle Eric Winston doesn't need an introduction to Jaguars defensive end Aaron Kampman when they face off Sunday. Winston knows all about his competition from a previous meeting against Kampman when he was with the Packers.
"When [Jacksonville] signed him I was like, 'Oh great,'" Winston said. "I went against him in Green Bay and now I'm like, 'This is fantastic, now I get to see him twice a year? This is exactly what I wanted to see.' But he's Kampman. To me, he's a lot like Kyle Vanden Bosch, probably a little stronger.
"He's a guy that, he's going to get crafty, he's going to give you a lot of different looks, if you tip things off he's going to take advantage of you. You better bring your A-game when you play him because he's going to bring his A-game every time. If you don't, he'll make you look bad."
Kampman leads the Jaguars with four sacks and 30 quarterback hits.
When the Jaguars take the field on Sunday at EverBank Field it will be the first home game in nearly a month. The players are looking forward to getting back to the friendly confines.
"It does feel like it's been awhile, but it's going to feel good playing in front of our fans," quarterback David Garrard said. "I know they're going to be excited, I know they're going to be loud, and we haven't been able to let them scream for us in awhile so we're excited to get back in front of our home fans."
The Jaguars have four home games remaining with Houston and Cleveland on back-to-back Sundays, and they conclude the home portion of their schedule with Oakland on Dec. 12 and Washington on Dec. 26.
Jones-Drew a fan of Texans running back
Jaguars Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew can appreciate a good running back when he sees one. In the preseason, Jones-Drew had an inkling that Texans running back Arian Foster was due for a big season.
Jones-Drew, who hosts his own fantasy football show on Sirius Radio, told anyone that would listen that Foster was the sleeper of the year in fantasy football leagues. Foster hasn't disappointed, leading the NFL with 864 rushing yards and five 100-yard games. His fantasy production hasn't been bad with 10 touchdowns.
"He's a great back, great vision," Jones-Drew said. "He can cut, he's powerful and his vision is one of his best attributes. He can stay on his track and know where he's going before he does it and sell the defense as a one-cut runner. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's a mismatch. Their offensive line does a great job of getting to the second level and getting on guys where he's able to rip those arm tackles."
Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio has seen enough on tape to agree.
"He's a big strong guy," Del Rio said. "A one-cut runner. He's made some people miss. He's showed the ability to finish. He runs when he gets out in open spaces. Not many people are knocking him backwards or sideways. It'll be a challenge for us. We are looking forward to it. It'll be a good challenge to go up against a back like that with the passing attack that they have as well."
Accounting for Williams
You can't blame Texans defensive end Mario Williams if he gets extra excited to play in division games. Williams has 15.5 sacks within the division since entering the NFL in 2006. He has five sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in eight career games against the Jaguars.
"He's always a guy you need to account for," Garrard said. "He's definitely getting after the quarterback and we need to make sure that we have our guys chipping him and keeping him off me as much as possible. I have a lot of confidence in my offensive line and they're going to do a great job, but he's definitely one of the elite pass rushers so you have to know where he's at."
Garrard ranks among NFL leaders
David Garrard leads the AFC in completion percentage (67.8) and fourth quarter passer rating (112.1) and ranks in the top five in several categories. Here's a look at where Garrard ranks in the AFC and overall at midseason:
|Passing attempts (149)||13th||28th|
|Completion percentage (67.8)||1st||3rd|
|Passing yards (1,098)||13th||27th|
|Passer Rating (98.8)||3rd||4th|
|4th quarter passer rating (112.1)||1st||1st|
|3rd down passer rating (93.1)||4th||8th|
Did you know?
David Garrard has accounted for 15 of the club's 18 touchdowns through eight games (13 passing, 2 rushing).
Military Appreciation Game
With today being observed as Veterans Day, Sunday's game against Houston is the Jaguars' annual Military Appreciation Game and several of the players and staff members have been doing their share to support the troops this week.
Coach Del Rio joined eight players on Monday afternoon for a photo shoot to support the Lone Survivor Foundation and The Boot Campaign. Del Rio and the players wore military boots for a photo that will be distributed to the first 10,000 fans on Sunday. The boots can be purchased at bootcampaign.com. The eight players who appear in the photo with Del Rio are Josh Scobee, Brad Meester, Aaron Kampman, Terrance Knighton, Russell Allen, Derek Cox, Montell Owens and Tyson Alualu.
Scobee, Adam Podlesh and Rashean Mathis participated in the Birdies for the Brave golf event on Monday at TPC Sawgrass to support the Wounded Warrior Project. The Jaguars also hosted 20 members of the Wounded Warrior Project at EverBank Field on Tuesday for lunch and a behind the scenes tour. General manager Gene Smith spoke to the group in the team meeting room and answered questions about the team and his role with the club.
The last word
"I think a divisional game is a pretty big game. Obviously we're 1-1 in our division. Houston is playing well. They lost this last one, but it was a close game. They've been playing well all year. For us, we've been up and down a little bit so we have a lot of work to do. Other than that it's a divisional game; they know what we do and we know what they do. It's just going to be who wants it more."
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew on the importance of Sunday's game **