The change has been dramatic, and in this case, Aaron Kampman said change is good.
Kampman, the Jaguars' veteran defensive end, is critical to the team's pass rush. On Wednesday, Kampman – who did not play in the first two preseason games – said he very much has liked what he has seen from the area this preseason.
One reason is the overall depth of the defensive line unit.
As big a reason is Tyson Alualu.
Alualu, a defensive tackle and the No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, has drawn praise from pretty much everyone around the Jaguars during training camp and preseason. Despite the lockout, he returned to camp playing at a high level, has shown the progress needed from an early drafted player from one year to the next.
Part of that progress has been increased disruption not only in the running game, but as a pass rusher. And while Kampman said Alualu's pass rush was already very, very good, he also said it's obvious that in Year Two Alualu has improved on all levels, pass rush included.
"I thought he was pretty good last year, but he played through some injuries," Kampman said Wednesday as the Jaguars (1-1) in the preseason prepared to play the Buffalo Bills (0-2) in the third 2011 preseason game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Saturday at 7 p.m.
"He really showed me a lot as far as his mental toughness. What I see this year is that comfort level. What jumps out at me is I always thought he had the art . . . . pass-rushing is an art, and usually you have to kind of work on that as you get older and get through your career. He already has that, which is pretty special.
"The things he had to work on were just some of the more basic things, playing the run and how he wanted to play all that. He's now getting that down. He's becoming more of a complete player. I think you're going to see some great things hopefully from him."
That completeness, coupled with the continued development of third-year tackle Terrance Knighton, has helped make defensive tackle one of the most dominant positions on the roster. Kampman said it's hard to overestimate the value of a dominant presence at the position when it comes to the overall defensive line play – and the pass rush.
"They set anchors, as opposed to having to run down the field on a zone play away," Kampman said. "They set the flank in the defense. You don't have to close as far. It just makes such a difference when our guys inside are playing really disruptive."
Kampman had four sacks in eight games last season before sustaining a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury. His early presence helped improve a pass rush that registered a league-low 14 sacks the previous season, and he said while the defense has yet to register a preseason sack, continued improvement is evident.
"I think we've done well," Kampman said. "I think obviously the headline might be that we haven't got any sacks, but what I see every day, even watching film from Atlanta last year getting ready for them to come into our place, it's just a night and day difference. From our talent level to also just our experience, the way we're using our hands and getting off blocks and rushing.
"Obviously we want to get him down, that's our job, but that will come. I've always said sometimes sacks are elusive things, but we'll make sure we get our numbers up."
Also for the Jaguars:
*Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert said he believes he has improved in three weeks. "The more reps I get the more comfortable I feel and that's really it," he said. "I've been here three weeks so every rep is still extremely valuable." Gabbert completed 11 of 23 passes for 96 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions against Atlanta this past Friday. "We just have to make more completions," he said, adding, "They were throwing a lot of stuff at us there, blitzing a ton especially when I got in there. We got to beat that because there are vacancies in the secondary and we hit a few. I hit a post to Dontrelle (Inman) late in the game but those are few and far between."
*Gabbert also on Wednesday addressed veteran quarterback David Garrard remaining the starter. "At the end of the day the coaches make the decision," Gabbert said. "David is a great quarterback. He's helping me along and he's the guy for this team right now. He's a veteran. He's been the starter here for I don't know how many years, six years now. So he's doing a great job and the same thing for him. It's all about getting reps because we're improving every day. Training camp is a process. Preseason is a process but we'll be ready to go at the start of the regular season."
*Alualu missed practice with his calf wrapped, but the issue is not considered serious.
*Right tackle Eben Britton (back), tight end Zach Miller (knee) and defensive end Steven Wesley (knee) continued to miss practice, as did running back Deji Karim (head).