JACKSONVILLE — The past month hasn't been easy.
Anyone around the Jaguars' defensive line knows this, but Jason Rebrovich said how the area fares in 2020 won't be decided by who isn't on the team, or who is injured. And it sure won't be decided by what observers are saying or thinking.
"It's easy to point a finger, but that's not who we are," Rebrovich said.
Rebrovich, entering his second season as the Jaguars' defensive line coach, joined the media on a videoconference shortly before 2020 Training Camp practice Tuesday morning. Defensive end Dawuane Smoot met the media afterward, with both discussing a major month of attrition for the Jaguars' defensive line.
"We have some dogs on the d-line even though we're thin and we're getting new people in every day," Smoot said.
The Jaguars lost two '20 free-agent signees expected to add depth and bulk to the interior run defense early in camp when Al Woods opted out because of COVID-19 and Rodney Gunter retired for health reasons. They placed second-year defensive tackle Dontavius Russell on injured reserve and starting defensive tackle Taven Bryan is what Head Coach Doug Marrone called "week-to-week" with a bone bruise in his knee.
The Jaguars are also without defensive end/linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, who has yet to sign the franchise-tag tender the team placed on him in the offseason, and defensive end/linebacker Aaron Lynch retired during camp. The NFL announced this week that defensive lineman Josh Mauro has been suspended for the first five games of the 2020 regular season.
"Our philosophy's always been, 'Next man up,''' Smoot said. "People are willing to buy into the system and we're reloading every day so I feel like we'll be fine going in to the season because we have some hard workers and some young, hungry guys on the d-line as well."
The Jaguars last week signed defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, and Rebrovich overall said he feels good about the moves made in the offseason and in training camp to strengthen the line.
"These guys are really receptive," he said. "They want to learn, they want to understand what we're doing schematically, they want to know each other in and out."
Smoot, a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, figures to contribute prominently in the Jaguars' defensive-line rotation. After not registering a sack in his first two seasons, a period in which he said he experienced "a lot of ups and downs," he improved dramatically with six sacks last season while playing nearly 40 percent of the defense's snaps.
"I've played every position on the line at the point," said Smoot, whose rookie contract expires following the 2020 season. "I know every position, so people are able to come to me and ask me questions and stuff. Emotionally, now, I'm at a point where I'm just trying to lead as much as I can and help out any guys that come in even if I'm starting or I'm second string or anything like that. …
"My goal is just to do whatever I can with the reps I have. I know after this year I'm supposed to be up for a contract, but I don't want to get distracted by that right now. I'm just trying to focus on being able to just go out there and make plays."
Also figuring prominently on the line this season: Bryan, a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. With a primary preseason objective for the line stopping the run. Bryan's size and disruptive ability figures to be key. And while Bryan has been criticized at times by observers and fans in two NFL seasons, Rebrovich and Smoot both talked Tuesday of a player who improved dramatically late last season and who can be key in 2020.
"If you really pay attention to every single play, whenever Taven's out there, he wrecks," Smoot said. "He's freaking knocking people off blocks and knocking off pulls and everything like that. That's his role. That's what he does. He's a wrecking ball. He's going to get vertical and he's going to knock off blocks and do what he has to do to open up plays for our linebackers.
"Just because the stat sheet doesn't show it [that] doesn't mean he's not out here grinding. He just stays in his role. He knows what he can do and that's what he's going to do."
Rebrovich said while Bryan at times in his first two seasons tended to "overanalyze some things," his focus this season will be a simplified approach. He also said "Taven Bryan is having one heck of a camp."
"His confidence level is coming with that, too," Rebrovich said. "We're looking for a lot of good things from that young man. … There's a learning curve, there's a growth. Taven is mentally, physically understanding what we're asking him to do from a strain standpoint in the run game.
"There's a lot of confidence going into that young man right now."