The Jaguars will break camp tomorrow and get-away day always begs the question: What are they taking with them? That question was posed to Mike Peterson.
"Start with defense. I play defense. Take it to the next level. The next thing is to be dominant. Take over the game defensively. If we're that dominating defense, I feel that's going to be the turning point for this team," Peterson said.
He's the heart and soul of the Jaguars defense. Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are the unit's stars, but it draws its personality from Peterson, an effervescent, no-nonsense fixture at middle linebacker.
Peterson had a career year last season: a career-high 190 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and the first touchdown of his pro career. Somehow, however, he was overlooked in Pro-Bowl balloting. It was a harsh disappointment.
"I've been over that. I'm working on a ring now. They can have the Pro Bowl," Peterson said following a morning practice this week.
If the Jaguars are going to challenge for a championship ring, defense will have to lead the way. It is the strength of this team; a unit with the best tackle tandem in the game, a budding star at cornerback, a punishing tackler returning to safety and, of course, Peterson, the leader of the group.
"We want to get the ball rolling on the defensive side. Guys flying to the ball and nasty playing," Peterson said.
The Jaguars defense was sixth in the league overall last season; 14th against the run and seventh against the pass. It is on the verge of becoming one of the league's elite defenses.
There are almost no questions or concerns on the defensive side of the ball. Only one position – outside linebacker – remains undecided, and there are plenty of candidates for the starting job.
"All the spots we're filling are supposed to be upgrades and I think they will be," Peterson said.
The most major upgrade in the offseason was the acquisition of cornerback Brian Williams in free agency. Williams takes over at right cornerback, which had been a trouble spot for the Jaguars defense through its first three seasons under head coach Jack Del Rio.
Donovin Darius returns to strong safety after missing last season with a knee injury he sustained in week two. Darius' recovery from reconstruction surgery has been stunning and Del Rio cited the impact of Darius' fierce tackling in the team's preseason opener.
"This is an aggressive, hard-nosed, nasty football team," Peterson said. "If we jump out there 5-0, nobody's going to want to see us. We have to be ready to go at the end of the preseason."