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Tucker wants return to past


INDIANAPOLIS—When Mel Tucker was hired to replace Gregg Williams as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator, it was immediately thought Tucker would lead the Jaguars into a conversion from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. Thus began a very long, disappointing and misunderstood season for Tucker.

"I knew it might've been the expectation," Tucker said in looking back on 2009.

It was more than an expectation. Tucker was coming from the Cleveland Browns and a 3-4 background. The Steelers were the reigning Super Bowl champions and their 3-4 defense was the scourge of the league. The belief among fans was that merely switching to the 3-4 would bring sacks and big plays, but it didn't happen for an obvious reason: the Jaguars' talent didn't fit the 3-4.

They didn't have a nose tackle or two-gapping defensive ends or big-play linebackers or a play-making safety. Yeah, they gave it a try, but found themselves having to switch back to the 4-3 at midseason. Now, a year later and following a challenge from owner Wayne Weaver to define the team's identity, the Jaguars are firmly back in the 4-3 mold and Tucker has no problem defining what he wants his defense's identity to be in 2010.

"We've stated that we're a 4-3 defense and that's the way it's going to be. It's going to help us as far as bringing in players in free agency and in the draft. We have a baseline identity and that's big," Tucker said while attending this weekend's scouting combine.

At the same combine a year ago, Tucker struggled to provide a snapshot of what the Jaguars defense would be in '09. The Jaguars lacked a baseline. They spent the offseason trying to find one and never did. That's changed. At this year's combine, Tucker was able to provide a detailed picture of what he expects the Jaguars defense to be next fall. He wants it to be as it was in its heyday, the 2005-06 seasons.

"Those defenses were dominant on the defensive line. They were up field, penetrating, hard to run on, able to get an edge rush and collapse the pocket in the middle. The linebacker player was decisive, aggressive, playing downhill. In the secondary, playing tight coverage, whether it's zone or man; aggressive safeties and corners able to make plays when the ball is thrown downfield," Tucker said.

All those things, Tucker wants the Jaguars to be, again.

"A physical, ball-hawking mentality: In the past, Jacksonville's defense has been known for that and we want to get back to that. I believe we can do it," Tucker added.

He'll need more talent to achieve that goal. He doesn't deny that fact and General Manager Gene Smith is bound and determined to provide the talent haul in this year's draft the Jaguars defense needs to be able to show improvement. Last year, seven of the Jaguars' nine draft choices were made on the offensive side of the ball. In a draft that is thought to be deepest on defense this year, the Jaguars could go heavy on that side of the ball.

"It's extremely important to know who you are. Players make the scheme, but we have to know what scheme we're drafting and acquiring players for," Smith said.

Can they fix all of their problems in one draft? Probably not, and that's why Tucker is challenging his players to improve their game in the offseason.

"The offseason is a time when you can improve, evaluate your scheme and where you need to improve. You can also improve in the offseason in terms of your players. That's what every team in the league is doing right now, and that's why you're able to see teams make a jump every year," Tucker said.

"We all have a bad taste in our mouths the way we finished," he added, referring to four consecutive losses to end the season. It was a final four weeks that was defined by a collapse on defense, and Tucker clearly doesn't want that to be the Jaguars' identity.

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