When it comes to the safety position, Gene Smith said there&39;s no question the Jaguars very much need to get better.
And what&39;s more, they need to do it in a hurry.
Smith, in his third season as the Jaguars&39; general manager, said the play of the entire defensive secondary – and indeed the entire defense – is interconnected, and sub-par play at one position can have a weakening effect on another.
Smith said this season is the time for safety to stop being that component.
"We need to get stronger down the middle of our defense," Smith said.
Smith spoke candidly about the position&39;s struggles last season during a recent interview with jaguars.com for this story on the team&39;s safety position, part of a position-by-position series that will end this week.
Smith said the team likely will sign one player – maybe two – in pro free agency who will compete for a starting position. While pro free agency typically begins in March, it has been delayed this season because of the ongoing labor issues/lockout between owners and players.
Smith declined to specify players that could be targeted at that time, partly because those players are under contract, but said, "We need to get better on the back end."
"We need more playmaking," he added.
Such plays were lacking a lot of times last season.
The Jaguars, who finished 28th in the NFL in total defense last season – 28th against the pass and 22nd against the run – started five different players at the safety position in a season-long effort to find consistency at the spot.
Courtney Greene and Don Carey shared the most time, but Gerald Alexander, Sean Considine and Anthony Smith also saw action there.
Considine and Smith started the season, with Considine and Greene starting Weeks 2 and 3. Smith and Alexander started Weeks 4 and 5, after which Alexander was released. Carey was inserted into the lineup, and he and Greene started the next six games. Considine and Greene then started two games alongside each other before Carey and Greene started the final two games of the season.
Greene finished sixth on the team in tackles with 77 and also had four passes defensed and an interception. Carey finished with 51 tackles and an interception.
Alexander, who started the only three games he played for the Jaguars, finished with 15 tackles, while Considine had 52 tackles, a pass defensed and an interception. Smith was released after his third start of the season – a victory at Buffalo – and finished with 16 tackles.
The uncertain nature took a toll elsewhere. While team&39;s corners came under criticism last season, Smith said the reality was the position was hurt at times by the team&39;s safety play.
"I think sometimes our corners were stressed more than what they should be," Smith said.
Smith said despite the struggles that he believes improvement is possible, with one reason being one of their five acquisitions in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Jaguars were criticized in some circles for not addressing defense more heavily, but Smith said he believes the team can get a significant contribution from Chris Prosinski, a fourth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
"I feel like with who we drafted, and with bringing a safety in pro free agency, we&39;re going to be a team that&39;s going to solidify the middle of the defense," Smith said.
Prosinski, who played collegiately at Wyoming, ranked fourth in school history with 373 tackles and led the Cowboys in tackles each of his final two seasons. And while he was selected in the middle of the third day of the draft, Smith said he likes how Prosinski could contribute next season.
"He&39;s 6-1, he&39;ll be 210," Smith said of Prosinski. "He&39;s a high 4.3, low 4.4 guy (in the 40-yard dash). He has excellent range. He does have good ball skills, so he can get into a position to make plays on the ball, and he will strike. He&39;s big enough, fast enough and he&39;s certainly smart enough. He should be a factor."
Smith said while Prosinski should compete for significant time and/or a starting role, he said Greene also could be a factor in the safety rotation.
"The one guy that improved the most last year was Courtney Greene," Smith said. "He has a chance."
But mostly, Smith said what is most certain about the safety position is that little is certain – little that is, except that it must improve soon rather than later, and that he very much believes it will.
"We&39;re going to try to bring a veteran in here, somebody who can come in here and start," Smith said. "Like at linebacker, we&39;re going to try to bring one or two starters in here, guys who can make an impact."