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'The defense has to improve'

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As Mel Tucker saw it, there were things to like in 2010.

Tucker, the Jaguars' defensive coordinator who will take on added responsibility next season, said without question there were times this past season improvement was made. There also were times when the defense played at a high level.

But while that was true, Tucker said this was, too:

Those times didn't happen enough. Not nearly.

"We have not been consistent enough over the past couple of seasons to say overall, &39;We have played any form of good defense,''' Tucker told jaguars.com recently. "At the end of the day, bottom line – whether you look at statistics, standings, or whatever – it has not translated into that. That&39;s one thing I as a coordinator, us as a staff and players – together, we have to become more consistent in our performance.

"As we do that, you&39;ll see our overall standings and overall competitiveness throughout the season improve, and toward that end, we'll have better results."

Tucker, the Jaguars' coordinator the past two seasons, will have the additional duty of calling defensive plays next season, a role he is taking over from Head Coach Jack Del Rio.

Tucker discussed the change with jaguars.com, and while he also discussed a variety of topics, he spent much of the conversation focused on what, exactly, will change next season, and what Jacksonville must do to improve an area that ranked 28th in the NFL in total defense in 2010.

Tucker said the answer is several-fold, but said one particular area involves not so much detail or scheme, but a philosophical approach that may be felt throughout the unit.

"The defense has to improve," he said. "That just has to happen. When people see our defense, we need people to say, 'These guys are blank.' That word is relentless. You want teams to play the Jaguars and have them say, &39;You know what? These guys are relentless. Every time we go to the stadium and watch them, they&39;re flying around. They play hard. Regardless of who's in the game, their talent level.'

"Ultimately, when we get to that point, that will be noticeable. I'm not sure we're saying that right now on a consistent basis. They may say it for a game, but not overall."

Tucker said some of that improvement will come from personnel, and some will come from coaching. From a coaching perspective, he said a major off-season focus has been not adding elements to the defense, but simplifying it.

The idea, he said, is to have players think less, have a greater understanding of the defense and therefore to play with a confidence that translates into faster, more instinctive play.

"We have to streamline our defensive package," Tucker said. "By 'streamlining the package,' we're not looking to make things vanilla, but we have to streamline to where our guys can play faster, to where they can play with more certainty, especially on first and second down, where they can be supremely confident in our run fits, where they know where the help is, where they know the defense inside and out."

Del Rio said during the recent 2011 NFL Scouting Combine that the defense, while undermanned at times, also played at high level at times, particularly during a six-game stretch in October, November and early December when the Jaguars won five games to move into first place in the AFC South. Tucker said he agreed.

"There was a stretch of games starting with the Dallas game where we played better and we were more consistent defensively," Tucker said. "We had a stretch when we stopped the run on a consistent basis. We made teams more one-dimensional and that helps everything, especially your pass rush. We felt like we were getting close to what we thought we could get out of the players we had. We were moving in the right direction, and it was a noticeable improvement in the brand of football that was being played."

The key to building upon that, Tucker said, is playing fast.

"When you get guys playing fast, there's more trust, guys become more physical," Tucker said. "You see more turnovers. You see more hard-collision, impact plays and more guys at the point of attack.

Players play fastest when they know what they&39;re doing. We have to streamline our packages and be total experts in whatever techniques we use.

 "Consistency and performance is ultimate how you measure success.

Tucker said key to the approach will be finding a balance between simplicity and doing enough defensively to combat opposing offenses.

"That balance comes from having an airtight package – simple enough we can execute it in our sleep, regardless of who we&39;re playing, but comprehensive enough to handle the offenses we see week to week and give people problems," he said. "That&39;s the balance and that goes back to decisions you make as coordinator."

Tucker said he expects improvement, and said while much off-season focus inside and outside the organization is on player acquisition, he said the primary improvement must come from players currently with the team.

 "As we look at how we&39;re going to improve, I&39;ve told our staff, &39;Assume we&39;re going to have the same players out there in 2011,&39;&39;&39; he said. "That&39;s the assumption, then we have to become a Top-10 defense with these same guys. We can improve. We will improve. We have to.

"Regardless of whatever player acquisitions are made – through free agency, or the draft – how many positions are you looking at and is that going to be the core moving forward? There are going to be a significant number of players who are going to be out there next year and they better have improved in order for us to have a chance.
"We&39;re looking at, &39;How can we get this player better? How can we get more out of what we&39;re doing?&39; As we add players to the mix, that will help us even more."

Tucker also discussed:

*The specifics of his changing role.Tucker said game-day duties will only be part of the change, and that game-day duties are only part of a coordinator's role. His role in big-picture decisions also will increase, and he said such decisions typically dictate game-day approach. "There are so many good ideas when you&39;re on the white board, but at some point, you have to make a decision: &39;This is how we&39;re going to do it,''' Tucker said. "Those decisions will fall more on me now than in the past. I&39;m looking forward to that. On game day, it&39;s a matter of executing the plan and making the adjustments that are necessary. There are so many other things a coordinator has to do. More of the final decision as to the direction we go will be increased."

*The pass rush. Tucker said while the team improved from a franchise-record low 14 sacks in 2009 to 26 last season, further progress is needed. "It did improve, but there&39;s no doubt where it has to go," he said. "I don&39;t want to throw out a bunch of numbers, but we&39;re still not near the top of the league in sacks – whether it&39;s defensive line sacks or total team sacks. That&39;s the goal. The goal is not to be better than awful. The goal is to be very, very good and toward the top of the league." Tucker said ideally the Jaguars will get 25-to-30 sacks from the defensive line and 15 more from the linebackers and secondary.

*The will of the current group of players. "It&39;s not for a lack of effort," Tucker said. "That&39;s the No. 1 thing. These guys, they do play hard. You have a group of guys who will do everything you ask them to do. They&39;ll run through a wall for you. That&39;s what&39;s very encouraging. Without that, you don&39;t have a chance. That&39;s only going to get better."

*Turnovers and big plays from the secondary. The Jaguars registered 13 interceptions last season, 11 by the secondary. "There are multiple factors," he said. "One is a mentality. If you look at defensive backs, you have to feel as a unit you&39;re going to have an effect on balls thrown down the field. There has to be a mentality and an approach that balls thrown down the field will be intercepted, knocked down or there is going to be a major, major collision on those plays. That&39;s what we&39;re looking to do."

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