JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser takes a final look at the Jaguars entering the team's Week 6 matchup against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, Sunday
Malik Jackson thus far has done what isn't always done.
The three-technique defensive tackle in his first four regular-season games with the Jaguars has played well enough that he's not only living up to a nearly-impossible-to-fulfill contract, he's making teammates better.
Yes, that's what high-profile free agents are supposed to do, but it doesn't always happen – and living up to expectations absolutely was a concern for the fifth-year veteran.
"I don't want to come and be a bust," Jackson said this week. "That's my biggest fear, is coming somewhere and people saying, 'They just overpaid him.' I don't want that to be me. I work hard at this. I want people to understand that I came here to be an intricate part of this defense and this team. If you're a player, I think that's important to anybody."
Jackson, who played with Denver the past four seasons, signed an unrestricted-free-agent contract with the Jaguars in the offseason that could be worth $90 million. He has one sack in four games, but his disruption and penetration has keyed the team's defensive improved in recent weeks.
Discussing his transition this week, he credited teammates such as Sen'Derrick Marks, Roy Miller III and Tyson Alualu for the relative ease.
"Nobody treated me disrespectfully when I came in," Jackson said. "Coming in, you're scared. You don't know what to expect. It's a new atmosphere. But these guys understand what it's all about. They understand it's a business and we're just trying to make this team better."
Jackson played with elite stars such as Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in Denver, and said one reason he signed with the Jaguars was a chance to be known as a primary reason for a defense playing at a high level rather – as opposed to being viewed as a complementary player.
"That's what I wanted; that's what I craved," Jackson said. "I wanted to know if I was a good player or if I was just part of a good scheme, a good organization."
Jackson said perhaps the toughest transition has been internalizing the differences between the Broncos' three-four scheme and the Jaguars' four-three scheme.
"That's the hardest part, to try to do the skills they want you to do," Jackson said. "In Denver, I could do things with my eyes closed. Now, when I get tired I can't resort to the things I knew. I have to do the things they taught me here. It's getting there. Game by game, it's getting better.
"I'm just reaching the point where I'm understanding everything and making the game slower. It's only up from here. If I see Sen (Sen'Derrick Marks) get a sack, I want to get a sack. I think that's a healthy competition; we have to keep getting better from each other."
That competition not only has helped Jackson fulfill offseason expectations, it has made him one of the main reasons the Jaguars' defense looks like it could be a team strength moving forward.
Images from Thursday's practice.
Look for wide receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles), tight end Neal Sterling (foot) and running back Corey Grant (toe) to be game-time decisions in Chicago. If Greene can't play then veteran Bryan Walters will return punts while Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Friday declined to reveal who will return kickoffs if Grant is out. Ben Koyack could get a more extensive role if Sterling can't play.
ALL OVER THE FIELD … BUT HOW SOON?
Rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey hasn't done much shadowing yet, but those days seem to be drawing near. Ramsey, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, has played remarkably well in four games. Playing against four elite-level quarterbacks, Ramsey has had success against receivers such as Randall Cobb of Green Bay, Steve Smith of Baltimore and T.Y. Hilton of the Colts. By some measures, he held Smith to one reception for nine yards—and he covered Hilton about half of a game in which the Colts' top receiver caught seven passes for 42 yards. Ramsey appeared to shadow Hilton regardless of where he lined up at times, but the Jaguars have yet to employ a full-game strategy of having Ramsey cover the opponent's top receiver. "A lot of it depends on who we are playing and some of the matchups," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said this week, adding that the return of nickel corner Aaron Colvin this week could play a role in how Ramsey is used. "We make those decisions as we go through the game plan and how the matchups are for everyone else and where we travel [Ramsey] to." Ramsey since his arrival in May has impressed coaches with his ability to mentally and physically adapt to whatever role he is asked to play. It's hard to imagine he won't be asked to shadow No. 1 receivers more often than not relatively soon.
"Anytime you leave him in one-on-one coverage he's going to have those opportunities and I'm going to give him chances to make plays; he's earned that. He's earned that trust in me to give him an opportunity any time he's one-on-one, so we'll continue to do that and do that until they put somebody else over top of him or change up coverage and then we'll look at other options."
--Jaguars QB Blake Bortles on WR Allen Robinson