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On to '22: Defensive front

JACKSONVILLE, FL - January 9, 2021 - The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Indianapolis Colts for Week 18 at TIAA Bank Field. The Jaguars won the game, 26-11.
JACKSONVILLE, FL - January 9, 2021 - The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Indianapolis Colts for Week 18 at TIAA Bank Field. The Jaguars won the game, 26-11.

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars/NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' defensive front in this position-by-position look at the '22 offseason:

Position: Defensive front.

Position coaches: Brentson Buckner.

2021 starters: DT Malcom Brown (17), NT DaVon Hamilton (8), Roy Robertson-Harris (14), Adam Gotsis (3).

Others: Taven Bryan, Jay Tufele, Jihad Ward, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Raequan Williams.

2021 at a glance: The Jaguars in 2021 underwent a transition on defense – and specifically, on the defensive front. They moved from the 4-3 defensive scheme run under former defensive coordinator Todd Wash to a 3-4 scheme run by 2021 defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. A group tasked with helping improve a run defense that had struggled mightily the previous two seasons took significant strides toward that end. While the defense still struggled against the run at times in 2021, the Jaguars' league ranking of 23rd at 125.1 yards per game was a step forward from a ranking of 30th at 144.2 yards per game the previous season. Robertson-Harris and Brown, acquired via free agency from the Chicago Bears and trade with the New Orleans Saints in the 2021 offseason, respectively, proved capable experienced veteran upgrades and helped bolster the area. Brown finished seventh on the team with 57 tackles and had four tackles for loss with three pressures and two sacks; Robertson-Harris had 37 tackles with four tackles for loss and nine pressures with three sacks. Hamilton had 46 tackles with a sack and Gotsis had 27 tackles with six tackles for loss and three sacks.

Offseason storyline: This area, like many others around the Jaguars, figured to undergo significant change this offseason – and that indeed has been the case thus far. The idea is to continue make needed improvements against the run. "Just look at our division," Head Coach Doug Pederson said, referring to an AFC South that features two of the NFL's best running backs – Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. "It's very important to stop the run." A couple of significant departures were Gotsis, who had been a key contributor along the defensive front in two seasons with the team, and Bryan – a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft who never lived up to pre-draft expectations and finished his Jaguars career with 17 starts in 63 games played with 5.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hurries. Gotsis started 17 games and played 32 in two Jaguars seasons, registering three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries. The Jaguars' major offseason acquisition here: the signing as an unrestricted free agent of defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, a high-level interior run defender who served as a team captain for the New York Jets in 2021.

Bucky Brooks' top defensive line prospects: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia; DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M; Logan Hall, DT, Houston; Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia; Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut.

Offseason acquisitions: Fatukasi (Jets).

Offseason departures: Gotsis, Bryan (Cleveland Browns), Ward (New York Giants).

Oehser analysis: The Jaguars as expected began this offseason addressing this area in a significant way – not only allowing Bryan and Gotsis to leave, but signing Fatukasi. Signing Fatukasi along with middle linebacker Foye Oluokun from the Atlanta Falcons is another step toward solidifying a run defense that must continue the strides it made last season under Cullen. The Jaguars haven't been stout or disruptive enough against the run in recent seasons. That has forced them to play extra defenders nearer the line of scrimmage, leaving the secondary more vulnerable than is ideal. The idea of the addition of Fatukasi and Oluokun is to improve against the run to a point where they can play more honestly without help, and get opponents into more obvious passing situations on second and third downs. Pederson has said since joining the Jaguars in early February that he considers the defensive front one of the team's strengths. The addition of Fatukasi could help strengthen that strength.

Brooks analysis: The Jaguars' interior defenders helped the unit improve against the run, but the defense must continue to make strides to hold up in a division that features run-heavy attacks in Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston. Adding Fatukasi adds a run stopper to a lineup that features a couple of scrappy veterans – Robertson-Harris and Brown – on the frontline. As defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell puts his stamp on a defense that should feature more movement, stunts and pressure, the interior group could add a few more athletic bodies to the mix to create more depth and flexibility within the rotation.

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