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Previewing 2020: Defensive tackles

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Taven Bryan (90) runs onto the field before the start of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Taven Bryan (90) runs onto the field before the start of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' defensive tackles as the 2020 season approaches

Position: Defensive tackle.

Projected starters: Taven Bryan, Al Woods.

Others: Abry Jones, Rodney Gunter, DaVon Hamilton, Dontavius Russell, Doug Costin, Brian Price.

2020 offseason additions: Woods (unrestricted free agent, Seattle), Gunter (unrestricted free agent, Arizona), Hamilton (third-round selection 2020 NFL Draft), Costin (collegiate free agent).

2020 offseason losses: Marcell Dareus (free agent), Carl Davis (released), Akeem Spence (free agent),

Offseason overview: The Jaguars did more to address defensive tackle than any other position this offseason, with the goal to upgrade a run defense that struggled through much of 2019. The major early offseason moves: signing Woods (11th NFL season, 330 pounds) and Gunter (sixth season, 305 pounds) to add size and experience to the interior, then they selected Hamilton (Ohio State, 320 pounds) to further bulk up the area.

Oehser analysis: Many Jaguars offseason additions must fulfill expectations, but no position may be more important than this one on that front. The inability to stop the run defined the 2019 season, with the Jaguars allowing 200 or more yards rushing four times during a five-game losing streak to start the second half of the season. Woods and Gunter were signed to bolster an interior that wore down too often as the season continued, and their signings – along with drafting Hamilton – represent a major overhaul. Hamilton should be the most significant addition of that group in the long haul, but the team needs Gunter and Woods to immediately give them the stoutness inside it lacked once a core-muscle injury ended Dareus' season in October. Perhaps the key storyline here isn't a newcomer but a returner. Bryan, a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, has been inconsistent in his first two seasons but played better late in 2019 than he had previously. If he can consistently show the penetrating, playmaking ability he showed last December, he could make a major impact. The Jaguars need that from him — and they need more pass rush presence from him than he showed much of his first two seasons. If this position indeed can improve the run defense, the Jaguars could take a big step toward being more competitive in 2020 than they were in 2019. If not, it's hard to see the Jaguars competing in 2020.

Sexton analysis: Sadly, the perception surrounding Bryan has overtaken reality – and it's hard to change people's minds on the former first-round pick from Florida. To be sure, he has had some moments where you just shake your head. But he finished last season with a couple of really consistent performances; if he can build on that, he has all the physical tools to create havoc with his strength and athleticism in the middle of the defensive line. Woods checks in after a decade in the NFC and brings the kind of smart, tough player every team in the league needs; he isn't the same guy he was a few years ago, but the Jags feel like they're getting a guy who can come in and be a glue guy in the meeting room and on the field. We know what Jones brings, which is a playmaker in the middle – as long as you don't ask him to play more than about 15-20 snaps a game. That's why Gunter was brought in from Arizona with his big, strong frame – to take some of the burden off Jones and Woods. Gunter is a guy the defensive coaches are excited to see on the field; he has more upside than you might think. The Jaguars spent a third-round pick on Hamilton, a big guy from the middle of Ohio State's defensive line. With defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah on the field for the Buckeyes, no one paid attention to the guy clogging the lanes. The Jaguars loved what they saw on tape from Hamilton and reports from Columbus are he's a big-time run-stuffing talent with legitimate pass-rush ability. Last year's seventh-round pick, Russell, rounds out a deep group that should be much better against the run than the defensive line that finished last season near the bottom of the league in yards allowed last season.

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