JACKSONVILLE – Now, we move to the defense.
A day ago, we broke down the Jaguars' offense in the wake of last week's roster moves around the start of the NFL's 2021 League Year. The moves reshaped the wide receiver position and added pieces at tight end and running back.
The Jaguars' defensive moves were further-reaching, overhauling the front with four additions – and adding critical pieces all around a scheme that has the potential to take on a different look from the one employed by the Jaguars for much of the last decade.
Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen and assistant head coach/linebackers Charlie Strong both have talked more about versatility and flexibility than scheme when discussing the defense – and the players added to the front seven are in keeping with the hybrid nature of the likely scheme.
The Jaguars also last week re-signed two defensive backs and signed three more, with the highest-profile move the signing of former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin – considered by many observers one of the top free-agent corners available this offseason.
So, where does the Jaguars' defense stand coming out of the start of the league year and entering the offseason program? Here's a look…
Defensive line (9)
Position coach: Tosh Lupoi.
Projected starters: To be determined.
On the roster: Tyson Alualu, 12th season; Malcom Brown, seventh season; Roy Robertson-Harris, fifth season; Dawuane Smoot, fifth season; DaVon Hamilton, second season; Adam Gotsis, sixth season; Taven Bryan, fourth season; Daniel Ekuale, third season; Doug Costin, second season.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars acquired Alualu as an unrestricted free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, signed Roy Robertson-Harris as an unrestricted free agent from the Chicago Bears and re-signed Smoot shortly before the start of the league year. They acquired Brown in a trade with the New Orleans Saints – reportedly in exchange for a seventh-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. They also released tackles Dontavius Russell, Al Woods and Gabe Wright – and allowed tackles Abry Jones, Daniel Ross and Caraun Reid to leave as unrestricted free agents. The team re-signed Gotsis as a free agent Thursday.
About the position: How this position – and indeed the entire front seven – looks on the field remains to be seen. While many of the Jaguars' recent roster moves have prompted observers to discuss a move to a 3-4 scheme, coaches have yet to discuss scheme details. Whatever the scheme, this position essentially received an overhaul. Trading for Brown gave the Jaguars a player who can play the pure zero-technique, over-the-center tackle; Hamilton, a third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft who flashed as a rookie before a season-ending knee injury, also can play that position. Adding Alualu, who played the last four seasons with Pittsburgh after playing with the Jaguars his first seven seasons, and Robertson-Harris added needed stoutness, strength, reliability and versatility on the front. "I told our staff I expected to be top fourth in the league and we felt it wasn't," Meyer said last week. "We attacked it and we're very excited about that. That was the place we built. I believe we're going to be in the top fourth in the league on that defensive line." Players to watch include: Smoot, one of the team's most productive defensive linemen the past two seasons with 11.5 sacks during that span, and Bryan – a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft – who has 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in three NFL seasons.
Linebackers/defensive ends (5)
Position coach: Zachary Orr.
Projected starters: Josh Allen, third season; K'Lavon Chaisson, second season.
On the roster: Allen; Chaisson; Jihad Ward, sixth season; Lerentee McCray, ninth season; Aaron Patrick, first season.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars signed Ward as an unrestricted free agent and allowed Aaron Lynch to leave as an unrestricted free agent.
About the position: Like the rest of the line, the makeup of this position depends largely upon the scheme moving forward. If they do move to more of 3-4, that could allow Allen and Chaisson to move to what many consider their natural position of 3-4 standup outside linebacker. This could be a position of strength, with both Allen and Chaisson being recent first-round selections – Allen No. 7 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft and Chaisson No. 20 overall in '20. Allen made the Pro Bowl with a franchise-rookie-record 10.5 sacks in 2019 before missing eight games in a 2.5-sack season last season. Chaisson registered a sack and three tackles for loss in 16 games as a rookie, improving and flashing late in the season.
Position coach: Charlie Strong.
Projected starters: Myles Jack, sixth season; Joe Schobert, sixth season.
On the roster: Jack; Schobert; Quincy Williams, third season; Shaquille Quarterman, second season; Leon Jacobs, fourth season; Joe Giles-Harris, third season; Chapelle Russell, second season; Nate Evans, first season; Dakota Allen, third season.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars have made no roster moves at this position this offseason.
About the position: If the Jaguars have 3-4 elements, that could mean Jack playing more of an inside position – with Schobert also remaining on the inside. Jack has started at all three linebacker positions in five seasons with the Jaguars, playing strongside in 2016 and 2017, moving to the middle in 2018 and 2019 and having perhaps his best season at weakside this past season. Schobert led the Jaguars last season with 141 tackles, including 81 solos – and registered 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed. Jack played at a Pro Bowl level, registering 118 tackles, including 72 solos – and registered a sack, six tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, an interception, five passes defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Position coach: Tim Walton.
Projected starters: Shaquill Griffin, fifth season; CJ Henderson, second season.
On the roster: Henderson; Griffin; Sidney Jones IV, fourth season; Tre Herndon, fourth season; Chris Claybrooks, second season; Josiah Scott, second season; Luq Barcoo, second season; Brandon Rusnak, third season; Nathan Meadors, first season.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars signed Griffin as an unrestricted free agent from the Seahawks and re-signed Jones and Herndon before the start of the league year. They also allowed nickel corner D.J. Hayden and Greg Mabin to leave as unrestricted free agents – and released Quenton Meeks, Rashaan Melvin and Josh Nurse.
About the position: The Jaguars addressed this position in a major way this offseason, signing Griffin to start opposite Henderson and solidifying depth by re-signing Jones and Herndon. Henderson, the No. 9 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, flashed at times as a rookie – and finished an eight-game rookie season with an interception and six passes defensed. He figures to start opposite Griffin, a third-round selection by Seattle in the 2017 NFL Draft who made the Pro Bowl following the 2019 season; Griffin has six interceptions in the past four seasons and registered 63 tackles and 12 passes defensed this past season. Herndon, a collegiate free agent following the 2018 NFL Draft, has started 26 games over the last two seasons with three interceptions and 18 passes defensed. Jones, a second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles who joined the Jaguars off waivers early in 2020, started six games for the Jaguars last season with two interceptions and nine passes defensed. "I really like where we're at with the four corners," Meyer said.
Position coach: Chris Ash.
Projected starters: Rayshawn Jenkins, fifth season; to be determined.
On the roster: Jenkins; Jarrod Wilson, sixth season; Rudy Ford, fifth season; Daniel Thomas, second season; Andrew Wingard, third season; Doug Middleton, third season.
Offseason to date: The Jaguars signed Jenkins as an unrestricted free agent from the Los Angeles Chargers and Ford as an unrestricted free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles. They also allowed Josh Jones to leave as an unrestricted free agent.
About the position: The Jaguars addressed this position in free agency with the signing of Jenkins, with a major question remaining what they will do here in the draft. Wilson has been a steady presence as a starter the past two seasons, and Thomas showed potential in a two-game stint as a starter as a rookie fifth-round selection last season. Thomas registered two passes defensed and an interception last season, with Wilson registering three passes defensed and an interception in 12 games as a starter. Jenkins started 15 games last season, registering 81 tackles with two interceptions and a sack.