JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …
Travis from High Springs, FL
Does Ryan Nielsen normally run a 4-3 or 3-4 defense?
The Jaguars on Monday announced the hiring of Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator, a position he held with the Atlanta Falcons this past season. Nielsen replaces Mike Caldwell, who held the position the last two seasons. The Falcons in 2023 marked the 44-year-old Nielsen's first NFL coordinator position after six seasons as the New Orleans Saints defensive line coach. While the Falcons often ran a four-lineman, three-linebacker scheme in Nielsen's season with the team, he – like many defensive coordinators – emphasized the need to be multiple in scheme and approach. That's increasingly the norm these days, though teams typically still list front-seven defensive players in 3-4 or 4-3 roles. Remember, too: Upwards of 65 percent or so of NFL plays are run from nickel defenses. Whether defenses line up in a 4-3, or 3-4 base front seven often doesn't matter that much once the discussion leaves Twitter and finds its way to what's really happening on the field.
Dave from Jacksonville
How did the Jags comply with the Rooney rule for the DC hire?
The Rooney Rule requires every NFL team to interview at least one external minority candidate for a vacant coordinator position. The Jaguars reportedly interviewed New York Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel for the defensive coordinator position.
Richard from Jacksonville
I should have prefaced my statement with "The best football day of your life" is when you become an observer. I don't think your life is common at all. You're a head writer for an NFL franchise. One of 32 positions in the whole world. I would hope you enjoy what you do immensely.
You have no idea.
Jason from Jacksonville
I'm sure fans will complain about the Nielsen hiring but it looks like his defenses are always good at stopping the run. Does he run a 3-4 defense? Does run-heavy blitzing schemes? The one thing I noticed that was a red flag was that the Falcons' defense gave up even more points than the Jags' did.
Some Jaguars fans almost certainly will complain about the Nielsen hiring. Some fans also will be pleased with the hire. It's the nature of such hires that they're rarely popular on all fronts. In addition to being "multiple" in terms of defensive front, Nielsen also has emphasized stopping the run – and in Atlanta, he also ran more man-to-man coverage than zone concepts. How much he runs man-to-man coverage and how often he blitzes could depend on personnel. Perhaps we'll know more when Nielsen discusses these concepts publicly. As for how many points the Falcons' defense allowed compared to the Jaguars in 2023 … I wouldn't read too much into such statistics as "red flags." Statistics and rankings can depend on circumstances beyond a coach's control. All reports from Falcons players and coaches last season – and within league circles – were that Nielsen is a capable coach who can implement a scheme and set a tone for the defense. How the defense fares will depend on how players perform within that scheme and tone.
Steve from Sunroom Couch
Dear John. So now second-round picks are expendable?
Of course not.
Trevor from Jacksonville
It seems most teams underrate the importance of the offensive line. It is the most important position group (not counting quarterback). It's imperative to have a good O-line to run and pass effectively. It plays the biggest role in keeping the quarterback healthy. It's the only position group with five players on every down. A pass rusher can affect a game individually, but the offensive line must work as a cohesive unit on every play. That may tempt some to spend more draft and free agency capital on a pass rusher, because it's a quick and relatively easy way to improve the defense. The O-Line demands more resources based on the nature of the game. Ideally a team would draft one center, guard, or tackle within the first two rounds every single year. I'd love to see a day where the Jags use a first-round pick on a talented player who provides depth his rookie year because the starting five O-Linemen are too good beat out in camp.
Your points aren't wrong – and my experience is that most teams indeed ideally would address offensive line more heavily than they do. And the Jaguars ideally would have addressed the line more heavily in recent seasons. What has prevented the Jaguars from taking that approach essentially is the same factor that keeps most teams from addressing it more – that is, the need to build up other parts of the roster and other positions being needed when they were selecting. You can tell yourself entering a draft that you would love the offensive line to be dominant. But when you have passable starters there and weaknesses elsewhere, addressing offensive line in an ideal fashion becomes difficult – even unrealistic.
Scott from Jacksonville
Hey, Zoney. Do you think that it's possible that until now things have come too easily for Trevor? He's been the best player on any field he's played on since he was in eighth grade, and I can't help but wonder if he's putting in the work necessary to achieve the level of greatness that we all believe he is capable of. Trevor had footwork issues that were pointed out as early as the first Texans game when his fundamentals in the footwork area compared poorly with C.J. Stroud's footwork, and Trevor appeared to overthrow his targets a lot more often this entire season. Trevor shouldn't be having issues with fundamentals like that if he's putting in the offseason work we hope he's putting in. Hopefully I'm just being paranoid, but it's pretty easy to see that Trevor did not take that big second year jump in Pederson's system that we all hoped he would take. In fact, he was definitely better last year, particularly at crunch time.
I do believe football for the most part came relatively easy for Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence until he reached the NFL. I don't believe he's not putting in the offseason work necessary to reach his potential.
Rob from Middleburg
I don't feel enough has been discussed regarding that final fourth-down play at the goal line when Trevor by all accounts went completely off script, and attempted a failed quarterback dive toward the goal line. To me, this signals a troubling lack of confidence in his play caller and more importantly, a troubling lack of confidence in his teammates. Am I over-analyzing, or is there something concerning lying beneath the surface there? I know it's not unheard of for a quarterback to change the play call at the line of scrimmage. But to not even tell his teammates?
You're referencing the fourth-and-goal-from-the-1 play midway through the fourth quarter of the Jaguars' Week 18 loss to the Tennessee Titans, a play on which Lawrence indeed went "off script" and tried to leap and reach the ball over the goal line. But I do expect you're overanalyzing a bit to attribute Lawrence not telling teammates about the play beforehand to a lack of trust or some underlying issue. Lawrence has done this before. He did it on a rollout that resulted in a touchdown in a victory at Tennessee in 2023. He did it when he successfully leaped and reached on a two-point conversion in a Wild Card Playoff victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2023 postseason. Sometimes you kill the bear. Sometimes the bear kills you.
David from The Island
Would the Jags have been able to trade this year's second pick prior to the trade deadline last season? Is that something the league would have allowed?
No. The Jaguars' second-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft last season was – and remains – subject to be traded to the Atlanta Falcons if the Jaguars re-sign wide receiver Calvin Ridley before the start of the '24 NFL League Year.
Marcus from Jacksonville
John, if Nielsen runs a 4-3 defense, and then the team puts the franchise tag on Josh Allen, would he be tagged as a defensive end, or an outside linebacker? Does it have to do with the position he will play moving forward, or the position he has played? Just curious.
This is a bit of a gray area, with some in league circles long having called for reorganizing the franchise-tag system to make defensive ends/outside linebackers "edge defenders" – which would perhaps more accurately categorize players such as Allen. While Allen was "listed" as an outside linebacker in the Jaguars' scheme, he indeed can play end in a 4-3 scheme. If the Jaguars switch to that scheme, that's where he almost certainly would play. I would expect the Jaguars to franchise Allen as an outside linebacker because he has played there more throughout his five seasons than defensive end. But we'll see. The franchise tag for an outside linebacker in 2024 is $21.9 million compared to $23.3 million for a defensive end. The difference of $1.4 million is comparatively minimal, though I expect Allen if given the option would still prefer the higher number.