Mel Tucker knows just one thing for sure about the Jaguars' defense, and for now, he's OK with that.
Ask the Jaguars' defensive coordinator about the defense a week into 2012 organized team activities, and he tells you he likes what's happening. He also said he knows the Jaguars will play a 4-3 base package, but beyond that he's not certain.
And for now, he said that is as it should be.
"We've got a lot of the players back, but every year in my mind, it's a new team," Tucker said during 2012 OTAs, which are scheduled to continue on the Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields at EverBank Field through June 1.
"You can't just totally do what you did the year before. You have to reassess the players you have. Some players develop. Some players are further along, more experienced – whatever it is."
Whatever it is, you adapt. You adjust. You reshape. You fit your scheme to personnel.
So, as the Jaguars' offense this off-season goes through the process of installing a new system and new playbook, don't forget about the Jaguars' defense. It may not be completely new, but Tucker said it won't look exactly the same.
Tucker, who took full control of the defense last season and helped shape it into a unit that ranked No. 6 overall in the NFL, said because of roster turnover, adapting, reshaping and refitting is what NFL coordinating is these days.
"We have to make sure we do what our players do best," he said.
This offseason, he's doing it with input from Head Coach Mike Mularkey. Tucker spent the last five games last season as interim head coach, and despite having other options this off-season he opted to return as assistant head/defensive coordinator coach under Mularkey.
"I like to talk to him about the perspective he has from an offensive standpoint," Tucker said. "It helps because he's very honest in the things that give offenses problems. He has a definite perspective. You always want to have people on the other side of the ball you can bounce ideas off of."
Tucker last season emphasized simplicity. The idea was to ensure players knew assignments, that they could play fast. Because of the lockout, coaches and players had limited time together, and with a slew of new players – linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session and safeties Dwight Lowery and Dawan Landry, for example, were new to the roster – Tucker said it was better to have a player doing a few things really well than a lot of things at an average level.
The Jaguars this year have made fewer off-season defensive acquisitions, with the major additions being rookie end Andre Branch and rookie tackle Jeris Pendleton. That's a relatively quiet off-season by NFL standards, but Tucker said while experience will make it possible to be a bit more complex, simplicity will remain a priority.
"We'll have more time to get deeper into the package," Tucker said. "The key is taking something that's complex and making it simple for the players. We have enough in our package where we can be comprehensive enough to handle any offense we play. Whatever we do, it will be something our players can execute at a high level over and over and over again."
Tucker said the defense worked various packages last week during the first three days of OTAs: multiple defensive backs, zone blitzes, man pressures, split-safety zones, single-high zones, stunts, games. The idea, he said, is to lay a foundation that will allow the defense to do what it needs to do in the off-season.
At the same time, Tucker said he's never going to be crazy with schemes and diagrams.
"It's a lot easier to install multiple packages and schemes with a bunch of diagrams," Tucker said. "That's not hard to do. It's much more difficult to really assess what each of your players does well, then take the collective talents and abilities of all of the guys. Your package should reflect what you can do collectively, what you can do at a high level over and over and over again.
"That's ongoing this off-season."
In fact, Tucker said it's ongoing all the time. After each practice, Tucker said the Jaguars rank players in order of performance. The idea, he said, is to know exactly what a player can do at an exact time. Tucker said the ranking is a major factor in determining schemes, which is why he said while simplicity will remain a major philosophy the Jaguars' defense won't be status quo, either.
"We were very flexible in what we do," Tucker said. "Whatever we have to do to get them stopped, we'll do it. It's not my goal to be featured on NFL Matchup on Sunday morning with Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge. That's not my goal. It's fine with me if they never mention my name. I just want the other team stopped.
"My goal is if they ask our players are you able to play fast? They say, 'I'm able to play fast.' 'Are you able to play physical?' 'I'm able to play physical.' 'Do you know what to do? I know what to do.' 'Do you have a plan? 'Boom. 'Can you be at your best? Are they using your talent? Are they using your strengths? Can you be aggressive? Are you consistent?' We get those questions answered – then man, zone, pressure, zone, 3-4, 4-3 doesn't matter – then, you've got a chance.
"That's the toughest part in my mind, and that's what we're working on."