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Linebackers at heart of retooling


Based on what happened in OTAs, Justin Durant has moved from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker, and Daryl Smith has moved from the middle to weakside. The question remains: Is anything about the Jaguars defense set in stone?

What was once one of the best gap-control, 4-3 defenses in the NFL spent a lot of time experimenting with three-man fronts in OTAs. Why? Well, aside from the fact that new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has a 3-4 background, the Jaguars also have depth concerns on their defensive line.

"I think the coaches are trying to put everybody in the best spots. That's where I'm at right now," Durant said of moving to middle linebacker after spending his first two pro seasons at the weakside position.

Heading into training camp, nobody's quite sure what to make of the Jaguars defense. The days of dominance ended last year when the defense sagged to 17th in the league, the first time under Del Rio that the Jaguars defense was ranked lower than 12th.

Can the Jaguars regain their form in 2009, or will this be a rebuilding/retooling season?

"I think we're in a good spot right now. We had great OTAs. I'm comfortable with everybody right now. I think we're going to be real good," Durant said.

Durant, Smith and strongside linebacker Clint Ingram were an impressive trio in spring drills. In his final remarks of the spring season, Del Rio praised his linebackers' performance. Heading into training camp, it would seem the Jaguars' linebacking corps is the foundation on which the defense will be rebuilt and retooled.

Rebuilding? Clearly, there will be personnel changes up front and in the secondary.

Third-round draft choice Terrance Knighton is vying for playing time at tackle, where John Henderson was a mystery through a spring largely lost to a controversial shoulder injury. Third-round pick Derek Cox will be given a chance to win the right cornerback job and a cast of characters have been assembled to heighten the competition at the safety spots where, it would seem, nothing is set in stone.

This much would seem to be for sure: Durant, Smith and Ingram will be the starting linebackers, and Durant will be in the middle.

"That's where I played in college but we all feel like we can play all three positions," Durant said.

Smith has played all three positions and played them well. It's his versatility that allows for the retooling.

"I think we're going to be a little bit of both," Durant said of the potential for mixing four-man and three-man fronts. "It's going to be a game-plan thing. I think we were just laying the foundation for it and we're going to see how it all plays out."

He was a surprise second-round pick by the Jaguars in '07. At small-college Hampton, Durant swept the Jaguars off their feet with his speed and athletic ability. Del Rio saw a player with the suddenness to make a major impact.

"My goal is get better every week. I want to make the Pro Bowl and help this team get back to where it was a few years ago. I think our linebacking corps is real strong," Durant said.

He acknowledges the youth movement but he won't accept the notion of rebuilding.

"Rebuilding is when you're not expected to do well; losses will be accepted. They won't be accepted by me," said Durant, whose goal is "to go as far as we can; to win the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. Just from the flashes I've seen from everybody so far; I've seen the dedication everybody has and I feel like that's going to transfer to the field."

Who those players will be and how they will be aligned is the great unknown.

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