JACKSONVILLE – The theme remains a constant.
And if the emphasis on improving against the run isn't defining the Jaguars' 2020 offseason, it's coming close.
Head Coach Doug Marrone, after talking several times earlier this offseason about the need to improve the NFL's 27th-ranked run defense, discussed the issue again Tuesday during his first media availability since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"Obviously, defensively we're looking to bring in people that obviously can stop the run," Marrone told reporters during a Tuesday conference call.
The reason it's so obvious is the Jaguars' 6-10 2019 season was defined by the struggles against the run. That was particularly true of a five-game losing streak that took the team from a contending 4-4 to 4-9 and out of the postseason.
The Jaguars allowed 195 or more yards rushing four times during the five-game stretch, including three consecutive games – AFC South losses to Houston, Tennessee and Indianapolis – in which they allowed at least 216 yards rushing.
Marrone said the results influenced the focus early in the league year, when the Jaguars acquired not only former Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Joe Schobert but former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods and former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Rodney Gunter.
"We're really trying to almost taking a baseball analogy of trying to be strong up the middle, you know, with our two defensive tackles, or our defensive tackle and our nose [tackle], and obviously our Mike linebacker, being able to point the defense and feed everything in to him," Marrone said.
"I think when you're looking at those three players that we brought in, they're solid guys, they're solid football players, they bring some versatility, but the main thing is – like I said before – our priority was making sure we brought people in to stop the run."
Marrone on Tuesday also emphasized the need for more playmakers offensively. Asked if there were enough weapons on offense, he replied: "I would say the answer to that is no." Wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in his NFL second season in 2019, and running back Leonard Fournette rushed for a career-high 1,152 yards and three touchdowns on 265 carries. The most productive non-quarterback skill player after that was veteran wide receiver Chris Conley, who set career-highs with 47 receptions for 775 yards and five touchdowns. "We're always trying to find more weapons – whether it be on the outside, whether it be in the backfield or at the tight end position or whether it's someone that is going to push the offensive line," Marrone said. "Where do we plug in these players that can get on the field and make plays? Really outside of the offensive line and the quarterback, every other player there is going to be a substitute in there at some time whether it be on the outside at receiver or even in the backfield. As much as Leonard played last year, there's still time where someone else has to come in the game for him." Marrone said the team feels good about a tight end group that now includes Tyler Eifert, James O'Shaughnessy and Josh Oliver. He also spoke positively of the wide receivers and running backs, adding: "At that same point, who is someone that's going to come in there that's different? … The one thing about offense is you always want playmakers and you're always looking. I don't know that I've ever heard said, 'Oh my gosh, we have enough.' It's one of those things that you never have enough. It's like chocolate chip cookies. There's never enough in the house for me."
Marrone on working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic: "I think what is tough for us as coaches is like a lot of us, we are creatures of habit. You wake up, you go into work, you get that cup of coffee, whatever you may do. Now you find yourself having to reprogram yourself into a routine that is different at home. I try to wake up at the same time, get the coffee at the same time and put my workday in."