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Minicamp 2021: Defense has done "great job," Cullen says

(Ben Liebenberg/NFL)
(Ben Liebenberg/NFL)

JACKSONVILLE – First things first:

Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen likes what everyone around the Jaguars' defense has done this offseason – the team's first under Head Coach Urban Meyer.

"Our guys have done a great job," Cullen said.

Cullen, speaking to the media Tuesday on the second and final day of Jaguars 2021 Minicamp presented by Baptist Health, also addressed one of the most high-profile positions in the Jaguars' new defensive scheme. That's the defensive end/outside linebacker position played by players such as former first-round selections Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson.

Cullen said the Jaguars will play elements of a 3-4 defense in some situations next season, and elements of a 4-3 defense in others. Whatever the situation, he said the edge players – a group that also includes veteran Dawuane Smoot and rookie Jordan Smith – will be key.

"When you look at Josh and guys like K'Lavon and Jordan Smith – tall, rangy, playing on the edge … it will suit those guys well," Cullen said. "They'll rush the passer. They'll drop into coverage. The coaches and players have done a great job adapting to everything we've installed."

The Jaguars, after ranking in the Top 6 in the NFL in total defense from 2016-2018, ranked 24th in 2019 and 31st in 2020. They finished last season 30th against the run and 27th against the pass, with Cullen on Tuesday specifically discussing a pass rush that registered 18 sacks – the second fewest in the NFL in 2020.

"Collectively, we've got to get the first sack before we can get the 51st," Cullen said. "We have a really good group of defensive linemen that were here and then free-agent acquisitions that we've brought in."

The Jaguars this offseason not only traded for nose tackle Malcom Brown, they signed unrestricted free agent defensive linemen Roy Robertson-Harris from the Chicago Bears and Jihad Ward from the Baltimore Ravens. Cullen also said he was looking forward to working with veteran defensive lineman Taven Bryan, a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

"Those guys have gotten after the quarterback in this league," Cullen said of Robertson-Harris and Ward. "We're excited. It (the pass rush) is going to come from a lot of different areas. It's going to come from the pressure we bring in terms of blitzes. It's going to come from the four-man rush. Really, it's going to come from a collective unit – our rush working, but also our coverage making the quarterback hold the ball. It's going to go hand in hand.

"I'm excited. Really, we'll find out in the fall."

Cullen spent 2010-2012 as the Jaguars' defensive line coach. The team registered 14 sacks in 2009 and 26 the following season, Cullen's first. Cullen was asked if a similar improvement was possible from 2020 to 2021.

"I absolutely do," he said. "Part of that is playing with leads. Part of that is you get out in front of people. But I absolutely do. For the people we have, the guys we have, the depth we have … yes, I believe that's a realistic goal."


Cullen on Tuesday spoke highly of two additions in the secondary – second-round cornerback Tyson Campbell from Georgia and third-round safety Andre Cisco from Syracuse, players the team believes can contribute immediately in 2021. "Both of those guys check every box – height, weight, speed, athleticism, ball skills," Cullen said, adding that the addition of Campbell gives the Jaguars depth at corner with Shaquill Griffin and CJ Henderson already on the roster. "Getting Tyson there was really big," Cullen said. Cullen said Cisco may have been the best safety in the draft before a torn anterior cruciate ligament end his final collegiate season after two games. "He fits all the boxes," Cullen said of Cisco. "We're really excited about those two additions." The Jaguars this offseason made major changes to the secondary, not only selecting Cisco and Campbell on Day 2, but also signing Griffin as an unrestricted free agent from the Seattle Seahawks and safety Rayshawn Jenkins from the Los Angeles Chargers. The Jaguars also moved quickly in the offseason to re-sign veteran free agents Sidney Jones IV and Tre Herndon. "You have to cover in this league," Cullen said. "It was critical to find guys through free agency and the draft. We've kind of remade that whole room. With Rayshawn and Griffin … those were two key guys – plus being able to keep Josh and Tre. The competition went up and the skillset went up in that room."

Top photos of the final day of 2021 Jaguars minicamp

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